Artists’ Canteen in Early 1900s Montmartre Père Azon

Credit given, paintings accepted, no charge.

stairs leading to Bateau Lavoir artists' studios Montmartre. Superposed text reads on the artists' trail in Montmartre
The stairs linking the Bateau Lavoir and the Père Azon café

Point 1, Père Azon / Le Relais de la Butte

You have arrived at the Abbesses Métro station which is the start and end point of the walk. I will have a little more to say about this station at the end of the circuit once you have completed the walk.

Map of Montmartre for the self-guided walk which guides you to artists’ studios, paintings and canteens. The walk is around the upper Montmartre area including the hill of Montmartre.
Walk 1, map of upper Montmartre; route and points of interest of the Montmartre walking tour Montmartre Artists’ Studios © OpenStreetMap contributors, the Open Database Licence (ODbL).
An OpenStreetMap detail of the signed route map from metro Abbesses Montmartre to point 1 pere azon turning right from rue des Abbesses into rue ravignon montmartre
The first part of the from Rue des Abbesses turning right into Rue Ravignan leading to point 1 père Azon. © OpenStreetMap.org
personalised keys to the OpenStreetMap map of the walk In the Footsteps of the Artists around Montmartre.
Keys to sights and directions. © David Macmillan.

Come out of the Abbesses Métro and turn right. Pass the merry-go-round. You will see a tall brick church on the opposite side of the street to your left. You are now in the Rue des Abbesses which rises slightly. Walk for about 100 metres.

At the the bus stop, take the first right which is Rue Ravignan and go straight up the hill which becomes steep.

Winter sun picks out windows and balconies on Rue Ravignon Montmartre
Windows and balconies highlighted by winter sun on the steep Rue Ravignan, Montmartre.

At the top, Rue Ravignan now intersects with the Rue des Trois Frères. On front of you is a square with a restaurant and some steps at the far end. The restaurant to your right, which is point 1, is now called Le Relais de la Butte (meaning ‘The Hill Inn’) but was known as Chez Père Azon at the turn of the 20th century.

Père Azon friend to the artists

This restaurant which was run by Père Azon (meaning ‘Dad’ or ‘old’ Azon), became the unofficial canteen for the impoverished artists who lived and worked in the studios located within the Bateau Lavoir building. The Bateau Lavoir is at the top of the stairs at the far end of the square.

Père Azon was one of a small network of Montmartre business owners who took a more relaxed view of commercial transactions. Struggling artists short of cash were not shown the door but given credit; when their credit reached its limit, instead of telling them not to come back he then accepted payment in paintings.

People sitting on a terrace at a cafe in a quiet square in Montmartre Paris. An artist draws the scene from some steps leading from square
The Relais de la Butte Restaurant. In the early 1900s it was known as Chez Père Azon – ‘Dad’ Azon’s place.

Pick up a Picasso or two

Who were the obscure artists eating in Père Azon’s restaurant at that time? Picasso, Modigliani, Braque, van Dongen…

Kees van Dongen recounts how he and other artists, including Picasso, would spread their paintings and sketches on the pavement close to the Medrano Circus in Boulevard de Rochechouart looking for a quick sale. In those days if you kept your eyes open whilst on the way to the circus and had some loose change in your pocket, you might have picked up a Picasso or two.

A generous spirit

Needless to say Père Azon eventually went out of business as a café owner. Whether he kept the paintings is not recorded; only a few people were interested in Picasso and the people at his table in those days.

Perhaps he put some in a trunk somewhere and one day the art world will be stunned by an amazing discovery and we may admire the ‘Père Azon Slate Collection’ of unseen early Picasso paintings.

Whilst awaiting for somebody to find that old suitcase, I think we can spare a thought for his generous spirit.

Chez Père Azon is today known as the Relais de la Butte, if you do stop here just remember they only take payment in euros these days.

Now climb the stairs to the upper level of the square in order to get to the next stop on the circuit which is point 2 the Bateau Lavoir.

For wheelchair users please return to point 4 on disabled route.