The artist discover Montmartre in the 19th century

The Bateau Lavoir alone embodies the bohemian spirit of Montmartre of yesteryear.

Bateau Lavoir today - Listed facade on Place Emile Goudeau
Bateau Lavoir today – Listed facade on Place Emile Goudeau

This cheap and run-down artists residence that saw the debuts of the most gifted and innovative artists of the 19th and early centuries is to this day the iconic symbol of this long gone era.

The painters Géricault and Horace Vernet were the first to move to rural and cheap Montmartre in the early 19th century.

Corot, Monet and Manet arrived in the 1870’s; they were the great masters of Impressionism, a style in total breach with the academic styles of the previous centuries.

One painting, today internationally acclaimed, left its name to this new painting style.

Bateau Lavoir - Facade on Place Emile Goudeau in the early 20th century
Facade on Place Emile Goudeau in the early 20th century

Impression, Soleil Levant, is a perfect illustration of Monet’s (then highly controversial) technique and use of light.

More penniless and talented young artists, who later reached international fame, flocked to Montmartre, attracted by its cheap rents and village life.

But above all, Montmartre was the artistic sanctuary where they could give free rein to their imagination and push the limits of their creativity to the extreme.

They turned the village into the uncontested Mecca of arts and literature until WWI.

Le Bateau Lavoir, a cheap residence for artists

They lived in cheap accommodations, often run-down buildings hastily converted by their owners.

Bateau Lavoir today
Bateau Lavoir today

One of these, converted in 1890, became known as Le Bateau Lavoir.

The rear of the two-storey building overlooked the gardens, but only the upper floor faced Place Ravignan, the current Place Emile Goudeau, because of the slope of the land.

A long wooden corridor, which resembled the narrow gangway of a steamer, ran outside the building’s garden facade and served 25 tiny studio apartments.

This layout obviously triggered the painter Max Jacob’s fertile imagination, as he nicknamed it Le bateau – boat.

The building had no running water, but only one tap that served all the tenants; hardly a washhouse or lavoir!

As per today’s standards, Le Bateau Lavoir was certainly not a 5* hotel; it was insalubrious and artists shared their tiny space with an army of cockroaches!

Le Bateau Lavoir, home to the greatest artists of the 19th and 20th century

The first tenant, the painter Maxime Maufra, moved in 1892.

Bateau Lavoir circa 1910 - Place Emile Goudeau
Bateau Lavoir circa 1910 – Place Emile Goudeau

Picasso lived in Le Bateau Lavoir from 1904 to 1909, during his Periode Rose and beginning of Cubist phase, but kept his studio until 1912.

His long-term fellow tenants were Van Dongen, Gris and Modigliani.

Le Bateau Lavoir was also temporarily home to Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Jacob, Apollinaire, Utrillo, Marie Laurencin, Vlaminck and Matisse to name a few.

Sadly, greedy investors developed Montmartre in the early 20th century, destroying forever the village community and putting an end to cheap rents.

The artists deserted Montmartre during WWI and moved to La Ruche, another residence for artists in the cheaper Montparnasse district.

Bateau Lavoir - Garden side facade with the wooden gangway
Garden side facade with the wooden gangway

Sadly, the original Bateau Lavoir burned in 1965.

All that is left are the rear gardens and the facade at no.13 Place Emile Godeau, which is now a listed Historical Monument.

However, the residence was rebuilt to the identical and still provides 25 artist-studios.

As you walk by the unassuming building, remember that some of your favourite artists made their debut there.

Directions: 18th District – Place Émile-Goudeau – Rue Ravignan
Coordinates: Lat 48.886113 – Long 2.337766

Discover more on Montmartre

Montmartre Village Place du TertrePetit Cimetiere du Calvaire Saint-Pierre-de-MonmartreSaint-Jean-de-Montmartre ChurchMontmartre Abbey Sanctum Martyrium CryptMontmartre Montmartre Cemetery Saint-Vincent CemeteryLe Passe Muraille sculptureMur des Je t’AimeAbbesses Art Nouveau Metro stationMoulin RougeMontmartre grape harvest festival

Wikimedia photo: Circa 1910

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