Theo and Vincent van Gogh’s apartment in Paris
Where did van Gogh live in Montmartre ?
Vincent van Gogh lived with his art dealer brother Theo from 1886 to 1888 at 54 Rue Lepic in Montmartre. The apartment was on the third floor. Vincent’s Paris years are seen as critical for his artistic development as he progressed from a dark palette to a vivid one. He collected Japanese prints and admired their graphic style. He was influenced by Neo-Impressionist ideas about painting with dots and dashes of colour.
Vincent comes to stay with Theo in Paris
Now turn around from the (optional) point 11 Cité des Fusains site on Rue Tourlaque and head all the way back uphill, taking care at the road crossings, to the junction of Rue Tourlaque and Rue Lepic. Turn right into Rue Lepic and again you will be heading downhill. Rue Lepic now starts to slowly bend to the left. The next interesting site is point 12, 54 Rue Lepic the home of Theo and Vincent van Gogh.
Theo van Gogh was an established art dealer in Paris
Theo van Gogh was an art dealer established in Paris. Paris at this time was the centre of the artistic world. Vincent van Gogh, who hoped to be able to advance his career as an artist and absorb some of the ideas of the artistic milieu of Paris, joined Theo in 1886. The two brothers shared an apartment on the third floor of this building from 1886 – 1888.
Much of what is known about Vincent van Gogh comes from his letters to Theo. The period when the two shared an apartment in Paris is the only one in Vincent’s life when the correspondence with his faithful brother stopped.
Vincent actually painted the view from the third floor of this building, from the look of the orientation of the view I would saw looking west. The painting can be seen in the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec
Van Gogh came to Paris to improve his technique and to try to penetrate the Parisian arts world of painters, schools, galleries, styles and theories. He actually attended classes led by Fernand Cormon where he met Toulouse-Lautrec who was studying there.
The two became friends. Cormon’s school was at 104 Boulevard de Clichy. Whilst he found the lessons he received here useful, he left the Cormon school realising he must develop his own style.
Toulouse-Lautrec painted a portrait of his intense friend in a café around 1887. The painting can also be seen in the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Paris changes Vincent van Gogh
We can observe van Gogh’s changing style through the paintings he produced during his Paris years. It was in 1886 that he painted a murky view of Le Moulin de la Galette. He also started on a series of self portraits.
Vincent was open to influence and keen to learn. He met Monet, Pissarro and Gauguin. He spent time in cafés (see the Toulouse-Lautrec portrait) discussing with fellow artists, he visited galleries and museums, especially The Louvre, he made contacts. Commercially his time in Paris was a flop. What he absorbed here however was to bear fruit in the years to come.
We can clearly see the influence of the Impressionists in his painting of the allotments Behind the Moulin de La Galette from 1887, (in the van Gogh Museum Amsterdam), where the areas of fresh colour indicating the summer growth are dabbed and lightly applied with short strokes.
Admires and collects Japanese prints
Japanese prints were very influential in artistic circles in Paris. In fact Paris was in the grip of a Japanese fad with the sudden end of Japanese commercial isolation in 1859.
It was during his two year stay that, with his brother, he started to seriously collect Japanese prints. Their influence on him and his fellow students Emile Bernard and especially Toulouse-Lautrec was important. The principle stylistic influences with their origin in Japanese prints, according to the van Gogh Museum were:
- an uncluttered empty middle ground in the painting
- enlarged foreground subjects so traditional rules of perspective eroded
- cropping bringing the principle subject into dynamic focus
- no horizon
- expanses of colour and flatness, “delineated by bold contours”
Scenes begin to beat with colour
Vincent van Gogh’s wintry Boulevard de Clichy also from 1887 in the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, whilst suggesting the greyness of winter still articulates houses, street, and figures with yellows, blues, oranges and greens. It is as though he wished to indicate the life that the street contained was beating below the grey sky, in spite of the gloomy wintry weather.
Vincent could not resist imposing vitality and colour even in the most unpromising of views and light conditions. This painting is a good example of van Gogh lightening up, whilst building up the image from juxtaposed contrasting dashes and points of colour.
The influence of Neo-Impressionism
The painting shows the influence of the pointillist technique of the Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac with whom Vincent also became friendly. Signac had himself painted the Boulevard de Clichy, using pointillism, in the snow one year earlier in 1886.
The painting that Vincent made of the view from the third floor of this apartment also shows traces of the dots and dabs associated with the technique.
Vincent van Gogh leaves Paris
Vincent Van Gogh left Paris for Arles in 1888, drawn south by the light. In the South of France his style took off. What he had absorbed in Paris came bursting into life thanks to the inspiration of the Provençal landscape and light.
Just how quickly and brilliantly he developed can be seen in the Orsay museum with, for example, his Self Portrait of 1889 painted in the asylum of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, where he voluntarily admitted himself, or his Starry Night Over the Rhone also in the Orsay.
Van Gogh paints the rhythms of nature
His Starry Night Over the Rhone suggests a reflection on the brevity of human life as compared to the infinity of the universe and nature. The first is represented by the couple and the reflection of the city lights on the water, the second by the boundless, timeless, spectacle of the stars in the quiet night sky and the slow flow of the river.
Degas 50, Rue Lepic 1877 – 79
Before leaving point 12, it is interesting to note that the building two doors down at number 50 Rue Lepic was the site of one of Degas’ residences in Montmartre. He was here from 1877-79 so he and the van Goghs were not neighbours. The Swaying Dancer picture in Madrid dates from his residency here.
The picture illustrates well Degas’ painterly obsessions: female dancers, movement, and stilling and capturing what is momentary and in fact hardly seen. Degas attempts to paint with photographic realism under artificial light. Degas, we have already noted, was particularly interested in photography. The unbalanced composition reinforces the snapshot nature. He has chosen to fix and translate a moment as seen at the ballet and not to compose a traditional picture.
Degas features in the second lower Montmartre – Pigalle walk
Whilst active as an artist in Paris, Edgar Degas lived in the Pigalle area of lower Montmartre.
In the second walk of this series around the lower Montmartre – Pigalle area, I take time to go into much more detail about where Degas lived and worked. I also take a close look at some of his greatest paintings.
Let’s make tracks now for point 14, Rue des Abbesses and the the Art Nouveau Abbesses Métro, which, after a brief trip up a side street to see a vintage cinema (point 13 the Studio 28), is the start/finish of the ‘Montmartre Artists’ Studios’ walk.
For wheelchair users, please return to point 2 on disabled route