We may be the London Mural Preservation Society, but we’re far from parochial, having in recent months made contact with and befriended mural artists from elsewhere in the world, notably from across the pond in the USA. So on a recent trip to Paris – which turned out to be something of a pilgrimage to Impressionism – I was keeping my eyes open for murals.
Paris has a reputation as an artists’ city, and, as I found, it’s a reputation that’s certainly justified. I spent 5 happy days wandering around the city, walking the boulevards and alleyways, jumping on and off the Métro, to visit the locations which gave birth to and celebrate Impressionism and the artistic movements that immediately followed. I visited Montmartre, with its cafés where Monet, van Gogh, Sisley, Toulouse Lautrec and Picasso would meet, and the Place du Tertre where artists still set up their easels today. Seeing Georges Seurat’s house, and where van Gogh lived with brother Theo on the rue Lépic (and the café where Amélie worked in the film!) got me terribly overexcited.
A fantastic day was spent in the Musée de l’Orangerie where Monet’s Waterlilies stun visitors into silence, and the Musée d’Orsaywhere on the top floor of the former Gare d’Orsay station – itself a work of art – overlooking the Louvre and the Seine across to Sacré-Coeur on the summit of the Butte Montmartre, the world’s most important collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art has been gathered. Monet, Renoir, Seurat, Sisley, Signac, van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne…they’re all there, in a display that really does take the breath away.
I’m not obsessed by Impressionism, oh no. OK, maybe I am. Why else would I spend an hour wandering around the Cimetière de Passy in the rain looking (unsuccessfully!) for Claude Debussy’s grave? Why else would I take the train out to Asnières-sur-Seine to see where Seurat painted his Pointillist masterpieces ‘La baignade, Asnières‘ (which I have spent many hours gazing at in the National Gallery), and its counterpart ‘Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte‘, on display in the Art Institute of Chicago.
But even though the heyday of Impressionism was over a century ago, Paris is still an artist’s city, and not just to please the tourists in the Place du Tertre. As in London, street art is alive and well.
I’d only just stepped off the Eurostar at Gare du Nord and found a huge mural on the end of a building on the corner of Rue la Fayette and Rue de l’Aqueduc, a bird’s eye view of the city beneath the raised chapeau of a moustachioed man who seemed to be welcoming me to Paris. From here, I walked to the Canal Saint-Martin to find my hotel and found another mural on the Quai de Valmy, which in keeping with the canalside location featured a rowing boat, cleverly incorporating the windows of the building, on a watery background that could have been painted by Monet or Seurat.
Further east, I strolled around Butte Bergeyre and the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and found another mural on the corner of Rue Lauzin and Avenue Simon Bolivar, a curiously dreamy combination of abstract and classic landscape depicting horse and rider statuary in front of a background of trees that wouldn’t be out of place in a Constable masterpiece. Now, having spent hours photographing murals around London, I’m quite used to getting strange looks, and Paris was no different – an inquisitive yet friendly local stopped and asked if I needed any help. It would have been nice to say more than ‘non, merci Madame, tout va bien!’ and ask if she had any knowledge of the history of the mural, but unfortunately my French isn’t good enough for that!
Frustratingly, I’ve no idea who painted any of these murals, or when they were painted. Maybe we have a Parisian follower who can help…?
Posted by Pete