|There are three important places that must
be singled out in Paris as the cradle of twentieth century art & artists.
Now, that’s saying a lot for a city that has hundreds of interesting places.
But lets concentrate on the places where art and poetry blossomed, where
important authors, painters and the literati met, played, ate, drank and
argued. Three landmarks worth discussing are
The Bateau Lavoire in Montmartre at 13 rue Ravignan.
2. Le Lapin Agile in the same area at 22 rue des
3. La Ruche in a residential district on the Passage
Le Bateau Lavoire is located at 13 rue Ravignan. It faces
a tiny square ( now named Place Emile-Goudeau) with delicate trees, a lovely
water fountain and a few benches. It is high on the side of Montmartre.
Pablo Picasso once lived here. The original wooden building burned down but
was rebuilt. This time, the green wooden structure was replaced with a
concrete replica. Neither building is memorable. As a matter of fact it
would never be noticed except for its notoriety. It was called The Bateau
Lavoire because it looked like the green washing boats that floated on the
When Picasso first came to Paris to live, he and a series
of poets and artists moved there. Pablo’s friends, Max Jacob, the irreverent
poet, Andre Salmon a man of great poetic talent, Fernande Olivier, Pablo’s
mistress shared the one toilet with countless other artists such as
Modigliani, Durain and Braque, Juan Gris and Van Dongen. Over the door of
his tiny apartment Pablo wrote “Meeting Place of Poets.” It was certainly a
rendez-vous for painters. Here the 25-year-old painter partied, plotted, and
created. It was in this building that Picasso painted Les Demoiselles
d’Avignon. It was in this building that Picasso and friends threw a famous
banquet for the painter Rousseau. His friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire
& Marie Laurencin were at that party as were Gertrude Stein and Alice B
Toklas. Gertrude had been there many times as she posed for her portrait
(now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York) and discussed her ideas about
literature. It was during these discussions that Pablo began to see the
world differently. He painted out her face.
“I do not see you anymore,” he announced. “I am confused.”
But that confusion led to his completion of the portrait
with certain mask-like features in here face. This was the early stage of
the invention of Cubism. And it all happened in this tiny studio. It was not
only tiny but poorly insulated, with only one tap of running water in the
basement* and totally run down. It is said that the tea left over in
Picasso’s cup one winter’s night, froze by morning.
Often, Fernande, who lived with Picasso, couldn’t get out
of bed because of the cold. Some nights, Picasso burned his drawings just to
keep warm. Yes, it was a miserable place but new ideas in art sprang forth.
Le Bateau Lavoire is a monument to creativity. But the talented people I
talk about were poor. Before Gertrude and her brother Leo began buying
Picasso’s paintings, he hardly had money to buy food. The Steins eventually
paid for another studio in the same building for Pablo to work in seclusion.
There is a story told about Picasso forging some
prescription labels and placing them on a table. Then he put Max in bed,
made his face up to look pallid and ill and invited the neighbors in to say
goodbye to their dying friend. It was a rule in those days that when you
came to visit a dying man you left a few coins on the table to help defray
the cost of the funeral. When they had collected enough money, the
pranksters went from one bar to another enjoying the profits of their
Some nights, Picasso and Max and the rest of the Picasso
Gang, “la bande a Picasso”, would come home late, firing a pistol and waking
everyone in the area. But his fame and income, provided by the Steins,
allowed Pablo and Fernande to move to a fancier residence. The moving men
remarked that it was as though Pablo had won the lottery.
Pablo lived in many other places during his lifetime. Very
few can be identified with the wonderful plaques the city of Paris erects.
The other famous studio he occupied was on the left bank at rue des
Grands-Augustins. It was here at the outset of World War I that he later
painted his famous Guernica. That painting is now in Madrid.
I visit the Bateau Lavoire with a feeling of euphoria. I
know I am standing on the same ground that the master once occupied. I then
move up the hill and down past the last of the vineyards near the rue St
Vincent. Here, at a corner facing that pink building once occupied by
Maurice Utrillo, I visit the famous Lapin Agile at 22 rue des Saules. It is
still as it was when Picasso spent many evenings, drinking with friends.
Here, Fredé, the bartender accepted a painting of Picasso as a harlequin (At
the Lapin Agile) seated at the bar as payment for lunch in 1905. Both Fredé
and the painting are gone now but the wonderful painting of the “Agile”
rabbit still graces the outside. How so many people fit into this tiny bar,
restaurant I cannot say. It still is a popular place and I suggest a
I have often seen the wonderful Lapin Agile street
painting Utrillo did from the side of his house (Montmartre Street Corner,
1936). Again, my mind goes back to the early days after 1860 when the bar
was called, Cabaret des Assassins because of a painting showing a serial
killer. The rabbit (Lapin) was a painting of an agile animal leaping from a
saucepan with a bottle of wine in his hand. Since the artist’s name was
Gill, the play on words became Lapin Agile. The rabbit does look agile
Once, a group from Le Lapin tied a paintbrush on the tail
of a donkey and sold the paintings he inadvertently made to an unsuspecting
public. Even the critics found the exhibit “interesting”.
Even Talouse-Lautrec used the bar-cabaret in some of his
work. They too can be seen in New York’s Metropolitan. Modigliani was also
seen here, especially when he lived in the area.
Today there’s a 19 Euro cover charge but worth it if you
like live music of old French songs while you drink.
Don’t expect a large club in the tradition of Les Deux
Magots or Le Flore. Le Lapin Agile has more charm because of its history and
lack of space. There are regulars there, to be sure, but those who know
Paris or those who follow the footsteps of Paris’s great artists and poets
return for the ambiance of a lost age.
Recently, the actor-comedian Steve Martin wrote a play
that gave the Lapin Agile a shot in the arm. Here, with Fredé and Picasso as
characters, the author introduces Albert Einstein who engages the artist in
a witty conversation. The two never actually met but the play is interesting
The third place famous because of the artists and
sculptors who lived there in a residential part of the 15 Arrondissement
near Rue de La Convention. Here on a fork of the larger rue Dantzig on a
small ‘passage’ at number 2 is La Ruche, the beehive. I saw it recently for
the first time. It was like finding a lost friend. The building gets its
name from the shape. It really does look like a beehive and the tiny pie
wedge cells used as studios gives it a beehive flavor. Ossip Zadkine, one of
the artists (sculptor) called it “ a sinister wheel of Brie”. Just a list of
the great artists who lived there makes one understand its importance dating
back to 1900. Many were Russian painters who arrived in Paris without any
knowledge of the language and without any money. Later they were joined by
Constantin Brancusi, Jacques Lifshitz, Jacob Epstein, Jules Pascin, Moise
Kissling and Marc Chagall. They say that even Trotsky stayed at La Ruche
from time to time.
It was the sculptor Alfred Boucher who bought the Médoc
Wine pavilion and two beautiful caryatids from the British East India
Company to adorn the front door. He put a gate out front which had been
forged for the Pavillon des Femmes (the Women’s Pavillion) and rented it out
to these needy artists. The owner wasn’t overly diligent in collecting the
meager rents. The building was inaugurated in 1902.
My experience at La Ruche was a surprise. I found it
easily enough but was stymied by the locked gate. One of the inhabitants let
me in as long as I promised to view only the outside. I walked around the
overgrown garden and came across a wonderful statue done by Boucher himself.
I was impressed with the silence of this structure in the middle of this
noisy city. I took pictures of the doorway with the wonderfully preserved
caryatids, those powerful women who seemed to balance the entrance on their
heads. They reminded me of the ones I saw at the Acropolis in Athens.
After a few minutes, a very old lady, dressed in black,
appeared leading her time poodle. She introduced herself as the “doyon” or
senior resident and asked about my interest in her longtime home. After her
artist husband died, she remained in a tiny apartment. She was over 90.
We talked about La Ruche, about art and the artists who
lived there. She was proud to have met so many and told me that when she met
Marc Chagall she told him, “You are not an artist.” The painter was taken
“No,” she told him, “anyone who could put wings on a
donkey is a poet.”
“He smiled,” she said proudly. “He liked that.” Then she
added, “But he was a poet, really.”
We bid our farewells as I turned to look at this
birthplace of art. How fortunate I was to have this experience. On the way
home I stopped nearby in Georges Brassins Parc. There I made notes of my
experience. I thought back at the other places I had visited in this city of
I was smiling, surely, as I wrote. I’m still smiling.
*There was and still is a small green fountain in the tiny
Emile-Goudeau Square. There are over fifty such fountains in Paris. Each is
called Une Fontaine Wallace, named after the man who had them built in the
- Le Lapin Agile is at 22 rue des Saules in front of the
Paris vineyard. For reservations call (1) 46 06 85 87
- Ask anyone when you are in Montmartre or on the
‘kitchy’ Place du Tertre where the artists paint on the square.
Unfortuately, the Bateau Lavoire and La Ruche are not open
to the public. But I suggest that you visit them just the same.
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)