Degas, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Paris Jazz Age self-guided walking tour
‘Light’ version of the walk beginning at the Abbesses Métro
Come out of the Abbesses Métro and cross over Rue des Abbesses towards the large church on the other side. Whilst facing the church turn right and head uphill along Rue des Abbesses for about 50 metres. Just beside a café (called the Saint Jean) you will see stairs leading down to a narrow street below. Take these stairs.
Disabled travellers please see information on introduction page for an alternative route for avoiding these stairs.
Georges Seurat’s studio
The Neo-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat had a studio at number 39 Rue André Antoine. In the picture this is the building in the middle with the triangular gable, near the bottom of the steps.
Seurat moved in here in 1890 with his model Madeleine Knobloch. If you visit the Courtauld Institute Collection in London you will see his beautiful painting of her as she puts on her make up: Young Woman Powdering Herself.
Find out more about Seurat and his paintings here.
The street at the bottom of the stairs is called Rue André Antoine, it zigzags down to Boulevard de Clichy. Once you arrive at the junction with Boulevard de Clichy you now turn left.
Follow the track I have indicated on the map by taking the walkway in the middle of the Boulevard de Clichy. Keeping Place Pigalle on your right-hand side and going past it by 50 or so metres you now arrive at point 2 which is 11 Boulevard de Clichy where Picasso had his studio and apartment.
Where Cubism was born
Pablo Picasso and the French artist Georges Braque developed Cubism here whilst Picasso was resident between 1909 – 1912.
I have much more to say about Cubism and its development, its debt to Paul Cézanne and some of its key early works on the page dedicated to point 2.
You can also find out how Picasso and friends reacted to the shock wave of the disappearance of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre.
From point 2 Picasso’s studio, 11 Boulevard de Clichy retrace your steps the 50 or so metres to Place Pigalle.
With your back to the fountain you will now see our two next points of interest: points 3 and 4 which lie on the southern side of the square.
Two artistic cafés on Place Pigalle
The building to the left, (now a bank), with the blue facade and the building facing it on the opposite side of Rue Frochot, which is now an organic food supermarket, were two of the most famous artistic cafés in Montmartre.
The blue bank building to the left was the Rat Mort (Dead Rat) café and the health supermarket to the right is on the site of the Nouvelle Athènes (New Athens) café.
A bohemian set of artists, writers, journalists and political idealists as well as models waiting for painters were the customers in the Rat Mort; its competitor on the opposite side of the street counted Degas and Manet and many other artists as regulars.
Whilst Toulouse-Lautrec set his picture of a courtesan and her client in the Rat Mort, Degas set his observation of alcoholic oblivion in the Nouvelle Athènes. Please see the two artistic cafés page (points 3 and 4) for more on these two important meeting points for the Montmartre artistic community.
Heading for Bricktop’s
Now carefully cross over Place Pigalle and make for the health food shop/Nouvelle Athènes café site. To the right of this building is the Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. Go down this street about 20 metres.
To the rear of the health food shop, roughly where the goods delivery door is now, was Bricktop’s Jazz Club. This is point 5 on the map. You can find out more about her and other key figures and venues in the Paris jazz scene of the 1920s in the Paris Jazz Age section.
Toulouse-Lautrec Rue de Douai
Now continue down Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle about 200 metres and take the first street on your right which is Rue de Douai. The next stop is point 6 which is number 9 of this street, Toulouse-Lautrec’s last address in Paris.
Toulouse-Lautrec had an apartment on the first floor of this building. The painting In a Private Booth at The Rat Mort of 1899 dates from the time when he lived here but would have been painted at point 15, his studio at 15 Avenue Frochot. The leafy Avenue Frochot is now gated as you will see later in the walk.
Toulouse-Lautrec caught the spirit of Montmartre like no other artist and I take a long look at some of his most celebrated works on the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec page.
Now continue on Rue de Douai for about 150 metres to its junction with Rue Pierre Fontaine. Cross over Rue Pierre Fontaine and continue for another 100 metres or so to where Rue de Douai intersects with Rue Blanche. Turn right here and walk uphill for about 50 metres.
We now arrive at point 7, 77 Rue Blanche, Degas’ apartment and studio from 1872/3 – 76.
Degas Rue Blanche
Degas was a founder member, in 1873, of the breakaway group of artists who organised their own exhibition as an alternative to the official Salon. This group became known as the Impressionists.
Whilst Degas never chose Impressionist themes and preferred the artificial environment of Paris and Montmartre to the fresh air and natural light of the countryside, he did help organise and show works at the first independent Impressionist exhibition held in Paris in 1874.
Degas described himself as a realist, we can see his realism in action in the 1876 painting In a Café which would have been painted here but set in point 4 the Nouvelle Athènes (New Athens) café.
I look at the In a Café painting at the page dedicated to points 3 and 4 and, because Degas is an important figure for the development of modern art, take time to examine many other Degas works on the extensive Degas page.
We now head up Rue Blanche to its junction with Boulevard de Clichy to admire the view of the Moulin Rouge.
Next stop the Moulin Rouge
We now head up Rue Blanche to its junction with Boulevard de Clichy to admire the view of the Moulin Rouge.
The Moulin Rouge (point 8) had opened in 1889. It was the fruit of the experienced impresario partners Zidler and Oller.
It positioned itself as an upmarket dancehall, behind it there was a large garden and stage for open air concerts. There were many distractions: donkey rides and a huge elephant left over from the 1889 Paris World Fair, there was a Spanish palace, shooting galleries, belly dancers and clowns.
The name Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge are often mentioned together with good reason: The work Toulouse-Lautrec did here was the highpoint of his career and the Moulin Rouge would have been just another Montmartre entertainment venue without Toulouse-Lautrec.
On the Toulouse-Lautrec page I look in some detail at two of his most important works which are set here, these are: the Moulin Rouge: La Goulue poster and his masterpiece At The Moulin Rouge.
The old Moulin Rouge that Lautrec had known burnt down in 1915.
The last time I was there, (I mean the new Moulin Rouge), you could freely wander into the entrance and see the decorative panels painted by Henri Mahé in the early 1950s.
We now turn around and make for the other street that leads from the Moulin Rouge, this is Rue Pierre Fontaine. Walk down this street about a couple of hundred metres until you come to number 30 which is point 9.
Toulouse-Lautrec 30 Rue Pierre Fontaine
This is another Toulouse-Lautrec address, for two years, in the mid 1890s. He would have been working on the lithographic album Elles whilst resident here.
Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas in Rue Pierre Fontaine
The next stop, point 10 also on Rue Pierre Fontaine, is important for both Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas. Degas first:
Degas lived at number 19 on the fifth floor and his workshop was in the courtyard behind the doors. He was here from 1878/9 to 1882.
Miss La La at the Circus Fernando dates from this period as does his one and only sculpture to go on public display; the Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer. This was shown, at the sixth Impressionists show in 1881 and it caused a scandal. Find out why in the Degas section.
Point 10 gives bang for its buck
Point 10 gives plenty of bang for its buck because Toulouse-Lautrec stayed here too – but not at the same time as Degas. In fact Toulouse-Lautrec liked the place so much he stayed in three contiguous addresses here 19, 19 Bis and 21 Rue Pierre Fontaine.
He lived between these three buildings from 1884 to 1893 or 4. This was probably his most creative period.
Experts disagree as to whether he also worked here. To simplify I have preferred to situate his artistic work from 1886 to 1897 or 8 in the studio in Rue Caulaincourt (see the upper Montmartre walk point 10) and from 1897 or 8 until 1901 in the studio in Avenue Frochot (point 15 on this walk).
Zelli’s Royal Box Club
A little further down Rue Pierre Fontaine on the other side, we jump forward about 30 years to the Paris Jazz Age and Zelli’s Royal Box Club at 16 bis Rue Fontaine.
Joe Zelli was an American impresario. In the 1920s the Zelli’s arabesque club facade was lit all night. It catered for the many Americans seeking a good time in Paris and an escape from prohibition blues back home.
There is no trace of Zelli’s now, there is only a supermarket on the site. You can find out more about the many African Americans who made Montmartre swing through the night when jazz breezed into Paris in the dedicated jazz section.
Continue down Rue Pierre Fontaine and take the next left turning into Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. About 20 metres to the right you will see a small building with some red Chinese style decoration around the door. This is the site of the Grand Duc (the Nightowl).
Bullard’s Grand Duc
It was Eugene Bullard’s club. Bullard was the key figure around which much turned in Jazz Age Paris. His story is remarkable. You can find out more about Bullard and other key jazz figures on the Paris scene in the 1920s in the jazz section.
Looking at this tiny, poky venue now it is hard to imagine Chaplin, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso and the Prince of Wales cheek by jowl in here. That they did come had much to do with the Bullard and Bricktop winning formula.
The Grand Duc was at the heart of the Paris jazz scene and acted as a community hub. Because Bullard knew everybody and was also well connected in French society, it was the natural centre of gravity for news, work and gossip.
Of the three jazz club venues that I feature on the walk this is the only one left standing.
Degas’ penultimate apartment
Continue another hundred metres or so up Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle and then turn first right into Rue Victor Massé. Number 37 is point 13 the seventh and penultimate Degas apartment and workspace in Pigalle.
The building you see now replaces the one Degas lived in which was demolished in 1912. Degas, who had four floors in the demolished building, turned it into a museum of his personal collection. His eyesight was declining and he was becoming more reclusive.
Although he never exhibited them, Degas executed many small scale wax sculptures in his endless and relentless quest to represent and capture movement. The sculpture informed his paintings and the paintings talked to the sculpture in a restless, unending, inconclusive dialogue in Degas’ mind.
The Woman at Her Toilette in the Art Institute in Chicago is a late work from sometime between 1900 – 05 and would have been painted here. You can find out more about Degas’ dazzling late work in the Degas section.
Degas was forced out of here in 1912 when the building was demolished; he was old and the move seems to have broken his desire to work.
We continue along Rue Victor Massé for about 100 metres until we see Rue Frochot branching to the left. Number 4 of this street, point 14, which is now a hotel was Degas’ address from 1876 – 77.
It was in the 1870s that Degas became obsessed with translating the three dimensional movement of the opera ballerinas into two dimensional painting.
It was a subject he would return to again and again reworking particular gestures and movements, reinterpreting rhythm and balance and seemingly never being satisfied with the final result.
There are obvious parallels between the dancers endless rehearsals and his own artistic striving.
Go back down the no more than 20 metres to the junction of Rue Frochot with Rue Victor Massé. Turn left and you will see a stained glass window on the corner and a set of ornamental iron gates.
Toulouse Lautrec’s studio Avenue Frochot
According to this site (in French) the window was commissioned for an oriental themed cabaret of the 1920s called the Shanghai.
Behind the gates is Avenue Frochot which is private. The two sites here which I have gathered together as point 15 concern Toulouse-Lautrec. He lived on the second floor of 5 Avenue Frochot in 1897 – 98 and he had his studio here at 15 Avenue Frochot from 1897/8 to 1901.
Lautrec’s lost Circus Fernando works
When Toulouse-Lautrec moved from his studio in Rue Caulaincourt to this one in Avenue Frochot Maurice Joyant, long time friend and Lautrec’s dealer, said that he left some 90 pictures in the old Rue Caulaincourt studio.
These pictures were according to Joyant unimportant for Lautrec. He further speculates that the pictures may have ended up as roof coverings for huts in the Savoy region of France, where, presumably, Lautrec’s concierge came from.
In his biography ‘Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Painter’ he also asks the question about the whereabouts of a series of “huge” paintings on the subject of the Fernando Circus in Montmartre.
Figures of clowns can be glimpsed in Gerstle Mack’s photograph of Toulouse-Lautrec entitled ‘Toulouse-Lautrec in his studio in Rue Caulaincourt‘ which shows him working on At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance. The more than life-size figure of a clown can be seen to the left of the stepladder in the photograph.
These works are lost and Maurice Joyant, like many others since, wonders out loud in the book whatever happened to them.
Lautrec’s drinking by this time was getting out of control, but he never lost his talent to succinctly capture a fleeting mood with his lightening touch. This can be seen in the portrait of Paul Leclercq (in the Orsay Museum in Paris), painted in the studio at 15 Avenue Frochot in 1897-98.
Leclercq, a writer, is looking at Lautrec with a raised eyebrow, tilted head and a hint of a smile. He is intrigued and engaged. That intelligent curiosity was recognised and captured by Toulouse-Lautrec’s quick eye and incisive, rapid, brush strokes. Lautrec always picked up on the telling details.
Two more stops on Rue Victor Massé: Berthe Weill’s gallery and le Chat Noir
Walk along this same street, Rue Victor Massé as far as number 25. This is point 16. Vincent and Theo van Gogh shared a flat here for a few months in 1886 when Vincent first came to Paris, they then moved to Rue Lepic (see upper Montmartre walk point 12).
This was also the site of Berthe Weill’s gallery. Berthe Weill was the first gallery owner to specialise in modern art in Paris.
She was exceptional; she was a woman gallery owner in what was then very much a male dominated milieu.
She was also the first to deal in Picasso paintings. Another famous art dealer and gallery owner, Ambroise Vollard, was the first to organise a Picasso show one year later in 1901.
It was Berthe Weill who bought and sold Picasso’s 1900 painting of the Moulin de la Galette. Many painters would have frequented her gallery including Henri Matisse and Amedeo Modigliani.
Let’s continue our stroll along Rue Victor Massé to number 13 which is point 17 on the map. This is a Degas address which is now a hotel. Degas was here during the 1860s and early 70s.
The last stop on this tour is the site of the second Chat Noir (1885 – 1896) cabaret and its famous and sophisticated shadow-play theatre.
It was situated at 12 Rue Victor Massé which is point 18 on the map. This was a very famous Montmartre institution. I deal with the Chat Noir on the history and culture of Montmartre page.
Finishing the walk
To finish your walk you could retrace your steps and return to the Pigalle or Abbesses métros.
If you prefer to take a bus then if you go to the northern side of the Place Pigalle the number 30 bus will take you west to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées or even to the Trocadéro and the Eiffel Tower.
You could also stroll down Rue Henry Monier in the direction of the St Georges Métro – I have indicated this on the map.
Another possibility might be to simply continue in the same direction on Rue Victor Massé, after point 18, towards its junction with Rue des Martyrs. There are a number of cafés here and Rue des Martyrs is lively. At the bottom of Rue des Martyrs you will find a church and on front of this you can pick up the métro Line 12.
As mentioned in the wheelchair route information all Paris buses now make provision for one wheelchair and have ramps.
I hope that you have been able to follow the route and that you enjoyed the walk.
All photographs © David Macmillan except: (1)
all photographic attribution courtesy of the Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons Attribution generator :
(1) Albert Kahn, Paris 1914 Moulin Rouge, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons