Monday, August 12th, was kind of a lazy, hang-out at the hostel kind of day. We were all just a tad bit tired from all of the explorations around Germany for a couple of weeks. We slept in on the quiet Monday morning and lounged around most of the day. It was nice to kick back and not do anything. Later in the afternoon, however, I wanted to do something even though the girls still wanted more rest.
I remembered a museum close by that I had wanted to visit the first time I visited Paris about 3 years ago – the Musee de Montmartre! It had been closed for renovations on my earlier visit. Now was the perfect time to go and check it out, so off I went.
The museum has a permanent collection of paintings, posters, and drawings signed by Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani, Kupka, Steinlen, Valadon, and Utrillo.
The art recounts the history of Montmartre, including the innovative artist studios and the infamous cabarets of the Lapin Agile and the Moulin Rouge.
The buildings the museum occupies were built over three centuries ago as the Hotel Demarne and the Maison du Bel Air. The Bel Air House is the oldest building in Montmartre. In its heyday, it was a residence and a meeting place for many artists, including Auguste Renoir, Suzanne Valadon, and Émile Bernard, who had their studios here. Artists started to move to Montmartre in 1870, and the cafes and cabarets multiplied in the 1880s. The effervescent bohemian spirit and its creative energy soon came to characterize Montmartre.
The buildings and the grounds surrounding them were worth looking at for starters, let alone the treasures I might find inside. I noticed the map hanging on the wall and decided to explore the grounds first and then tour the rooms inside the museum.
Quite a lovely garden it was too, with various levels and unique little nooks and crannies hidden here and there amongst all of the plants and greenery. It was absolutely delightful. I could easily spend a good deal of time here. I can see how it could lend itself so well to stir the artistic creativity of its inhabitants!
Here’s a perfect example, The Swing. Renoir painted the picture in this very garden, and this is the swing in the garden that inspired his imagination in 1876! That’s cool.
Montmartre sits upon a hill, and apart from its artistic inhabitants, it has quite a history of its own. In the 15th century, the north and northeast slopes of the hill, there was a village which was surrounded by vineyards, gardens, and peach and cherry orchards. The first wind-generated mills were built on the western slope in 1529, grinding wheat, barley, and rye. There were thirteen mills at one time, but by the late nineteenth century, only two remained.
A flight of stairs in the garden leads down to the remaining current-day vineyard and gardens. Although that area is not open to the public, there is a spot along the fence that you can see the loved and well-tended gardens.
If you look near the center of the picture on the right, you will see a small terra-cotta colored section of a wall just beyond the grapevines, which are draped with protective cloth in the vineyard. Behind that small wall is a building. (See picture below.)
It is the site of the Lapin Agile – a famous cabaret. The mascot, a rabbit, was painted by André Gill, and the rabbit was known as ‘Le Lapin à Gill’ (Gill’s Rabbit). The name was later changed to Lapin Agile (which has the exact same pronunciation) and means Agile Rabbit. I can just imagine the many artists who lived on this property traipsing down this staircase, past the vineyards and gardens as they headed to the cabaret nearby!
The gardens and the atmosphere have a certain ‘rustic feel’ to them, making this is an exceptional site in the very heart of Paris.
After touring the gardens, I headed inside and began surveying each of the many exhibition rooms of various artists. The first I came across was George Dorignac.
Next, I explored the studio and the apartment of Suzanne Valadon.
Above right, the studio as seen from the garden; below, the studio from the inside…
Their apartment was in adjoining rooms.
In another section, the rich history and culture of Montmartre was presented with numerous old photographs and paintings depicting what it looked like way back when with its cabarets, gypsum mines, and windmills.
According to the information provided, “theatre, music, circus, and dance have all played an essential part in the make-up of Montmartre and revolved around the cabaret performances. The most celebrated cabaret, the Chat Noir, welcomed several performances of the shadow theatre, which was created in 1866 by Henri Rivière and Henry Somm. At the end of 1887, Rivière managed to transform a small shadow show into an extraordinary technical and elaborate artistic performance according to the displays.”
There were so many paintings by numerous famous artists in the various rooms of the two main buildings. I was really enjoying the multiple exhibitions of each. I have only shared a smidgeon of the treasures it held. For such a small museum, it sure had a plethora of colorful treasures by some very talented artists.
Then there was a whole room dedicated to the can-can! Ooh-la-la! That was fun!
Montmartre Museum is perhaps Paris’ best-kept secret! An art museum that is not crowded at all. I almost had the entire place to myself most of the time, which is hard to say in this city! It is also the perfect size for a museum, with enough things to look at but not so massive you need an entire day to see it! Montmartre Museum has a lot to offer in a quiet and unassuming atmosphere.
Next time you’re in Paris, you should try to check it out! It even offers excellent views of the big city below and its iconic landmarks!