Paris - Ile De France

Saint Germain des Pres - Existentialism and Vanguard

This page was updated on: Saturday, January 18, 2020 at: 12:16 pm

Saint Germain des Pres, the cradle of French Existentialist Movement

Saint Germain des Pres became one of the trendiest areas of Paris during the inter war period.

A new generation of artists, writers, philosophers and politicians indeed gathered in the cafes on Boulevard Saint-Germain and surrounding streets.

Existentialism arose in France in the 1930s. It was a reaction against the establishment of the time.

Jean-Paul Sartre, the main French leader of the movement, believed that God didn't exist and that:

"L'Homme doit trouver en lui ses propres valeurs et il doit décider par lui-même les actes qu'il commettra" 

"Man must find his own values and must decide for himself how to act -" and that "existence precedes essence."

Man is free and entirely responsible for his own evolution. What he does and chooses makes him what he is.

The personal commitment in the pursuit of goodness and truth is essential. It can be achieved only through personal experience run by personal beliefs.

Blaise Pascal was the first to evoke the existentialist principles in the early 17th century.

The Dane Kierkegaard, however, is considered the father of 20th century existentialist movement.

Kierkegaard said that:

"l'Homme ne peut trouver le sens de sa vie qu'à travers la découverte de sa propre et unique vocation"

"Man can find meaning in his life only through the discovery of his own unique vocation"

He was followed by Heidegger, Nietzsche, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Sartre, Camus, Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco to name a few...

Where did the Existentialists meet in Saint Germain des Pres?

The cafes of Saint Germain des Pres founded their own literary circles in the early 20th century.

This took place when promoters started to develop Montmartre. Artists, musicians and photographers indeed deserted 'their village on the hill' and moved down to Montparnasse and Saint Germain des Pres.

They joined a new generation of actors, singers and writers.

Among these were Picasso, Léo Ferré, Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, Charles Trenet, Guy Béart, Charles Aznavour, Juliette Greco and Serge Gainsbourg...

They spent their days putting the world to rights at the terrace of the Café de Flore, Café Les Deux Magots, Brasserie Lipp and Le Procope.

They spent the night in the underground clubs or caves à musique, such as the Club Saint-Germain or the Blue Note.

There, they listened to New Orleans Jazz and Be Bop played by young Sidney Bechet, Miles Davis and Duke Ellington…

The success of these cafés was reinforced during WWII. They were indeed the last establishments where people could still meet when Paris was occupied and subject to restrictions and curfews.

They were a glimmer of hope in bleak times!

Saint Germain des Pres after WWII

However, things changed at the end of the war.

The carefree youth of Saint Germain des Pres indeed developed their own interpretation of Sartre's existentialist philosophy.

They devoted themselves to the boundless pleasures of life, shocking the well-meaning souls in a Paris still affected by the tragedy of war.

The Avant-Garde or Vanguard movement took off at the Liberation.

The 'new comers' were called Samuel Beckett, Ionesco and Cocteau...

Directions: 6th district
Metro: Saint Germain des Pres on Line 4
Coordinates Saint Germain des Pres: Lat 48.853798 - Long 2.333328

Richelieu mausoleum in front of high altar in Sorbonne Chapel

June 5 2020

Sorbonne Chapel and Cardinal de Richelieu tomb

Sorbonne chapel, the college’s private chapel, is a masterpiece of French classical architecture that houses Cardinal Richelieu’s mausoleum
Villa Seurat - Maison Quillet at No.8 by Lurçat

May 14 2020

Villa Seurat, a showcase of Modernist architecture

Villa Seurat, a showcase of the Roaring Twenties’ Modernist architecture and a Cité d’Artistes where Arthur Miller wrote Tropic of Cancer
Theatre de La Comedie Italienne in Rue de la Gaite

April 29 2020

Rue de la Gaite in Montparnasse

Rue de la Gaite in Montparnasse district, a street nicknamed Theater St. as it’s been essentially lined with entertainment halls since the 1780s
Pont de la Concorde seen from Rive Gauche

April 14 2020

Pont de la Concorde in Paris

The Pont de la Concorde links Place de la Concorde to the National Assembly and was built at the French Revolution with stones from the Bastille Fortress

Sign up to our newsletter

Travel France Online will use the information you provide on this form to keep in touch with you and to provide updates via our newsletter. By selecting the boxes on the form you confirm your acceptance to receive our newsletter.

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by Contacting Us

We will treat your information with respect. For more information please visit our privacy policy page