Paris in the 19th Century: the Epicenter of the Art World
During the mid-19th century, Paris was the creative centre of the art world. Artists, writers, poets and musicians from all across the world, flocked to the French capital.
Paris offered the high esteemed art academies, the incredible Louvre museum and the Salons. And of course, succeeding in Paris was THE DREAM of all emerging artists. They all yearned to have their art works accepted by and exhibited in the highly prestigious Paris Salon.
“An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris”
– Friedrich Nietzsche –
The Dramatic Changes in Paris
The 19th century was a super exciting period to be in Paris. Georges-Eugène Haussmann, also known as Baron Haussmann, was a French official chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal of the French capital.
Hausmann essentially ordered the demolishment of the city slums in the historical center of Paris. He replaced these slums with beautiful, opulent buildings standing side by side on wide, tree-lined boulevards. This facelift was happening at the time of a massive industrial and cultural revolution throughout all of Europe. Extensive train transport was being built and streets were now being lit up by miraculous electric lights!
And under this backdrop of modernity and change taking place in Paris, emerged the Impressionism art movement!
Paris was the Intellectual Nerve Center of the Impressionism Movement.
Many art historians agree that impressionism first started in the Normandy region of France. However, 19th century Paris was the intellectual nerve center of the impressionism movement.
All the impressionists at one time or another, found themselves living in Paris, studying and trying to gain their fame and fortune in the French Capital.
It was here in Paris where the Impressionism artists held their own exhibitions and caused so much controversy in the art world. It was also in French capital, where they worked as a group and encouraged one another to continue despite continual rejection.
Montmartre and the Impressionists artists
Many of the impressionism artists lived in the bohemian village of Montmartre. This neighbourhood, perched on a hill, was a working class and more rural part of Paris. It offered cheap and run-down accomodation and was far more affordable than the fancier parts of Paris.
Many of the impressionists were scraping to make ends meet, so Montmartre was the most affordable option.
Montmartre was bursting at the seams with artists. They brought to this neighbourhood cabarets, night clubs, bars, restaurants and cafes. All these places were filled with artists having loud discussions about the future of art and painting.
It is here in Montmartre where the impressionism artists painted so many beautiful paintings and laid the foundation to the beginnings of Modern Art.
Paris and the Legacy of the Impressionist Artists
Paris is still the best city in the world to enjoy Impressionism art. Below is a list of wonderful museums showcasing fantastic collections of French impressionism art:
- Musee D’Orsay – it is a huge museum and holds the greatest collection of the late 19th-century paintings anywhere.
- Musee Marmottan Monet in Montmartre also has a superb collection and also houses the largest Monet collection anywhere
- Le Petit Palais is the only museum that offers free admission EVERY DAY. It also showcases some fantastic impressionist paintings.
- Musée Orangerie is a “Monet-Water-Lily-Dream-Museum” One of my personal favorites…. It also houses a wonderful impressionist collection
See below a List of the Best Walking Tours in Paris in the Footsteps of the Impressionists
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What else apart from Art Museums?
To appreciate the Impressionists, a visit to the Montmartre district is a MUST. It still has that rustic charm, not found anywhere else in Paris. And Montmartre still lures the artists. I recommend that you visit:
- Musée de Montmartre The building of the museum was once an artists commune. Here lived the young artists who could barely afford rent such as Pierre Auguste Renoir, Raoul Dufy and others. With its rich history of art, this building has been converted into a lovely museum about the history of Montmartre.
- Go visit the Moulin Rouge, the famous nightclub that was frequented nightly by the artist Toulouse-Lautrec. It was one of the best cabarets in 19th century Paris and was the birthplace of the seductive dance called the can-can.
- Check out The Bateau-Lavoir – This place once offered cheap accommodation for many artists. The building had no running water, but only one tap that served all the tenants. As you walk by, remember that Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Utrillo, Matisse and many others resided here.
- Pop into the Montmartre Cemetery to visit the graves of the French impressionists Edgar Degas, Eva Gonzales, Maurice Utrillo and other famous residents! It is a lovely tranquil place to visit.
- Go visit the beautiful Pere Lachaise cemetery and find the graves of Camille Pissarro, Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Signac, Amedeo Modigliani and many other past celebs!
- Stop by the beautiful Passy cemetery and find the graves of Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot & her husband Eugene Manet
- Vist the island “Ile de la Grande Jatte” also known as the Impressionism island. This tiny island inspired some of the greatest impressionism artists, such as Monet, Van Gogh, Sisley and Seurat. On this island you can enjoy the 4 km impressionism walking trail. This trail displays reproductions of ten famous impressionism paintings, located in the exact place where the impressionists set up their easels to paint.
Hop on a train & do a great day trip from Paris to:
- Giverny and visit the stunning Claude Monet house and gardens
- Visit Pontoise – the place where Camille Pissarro lived for many years
- Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo are buried. In Auvers, you can visit the Ravoux Inn. Climb up to the upper floor of the Inn to see the room where Van Gogh died. And while you are there, go visit the famous Church of Auvers that Van Gogh painted.
- Go to the The Impressionism Island, Chatou and go on the impressionism walking trail in the footsteps of Renoir
- Take a train to Le Havre to see the second largest Impressionism art museum in the world
- Make a day trip to the historical town of Moret-sur-Loing in the footsteps of Alfred Sisley
- Visit Fontainebleau Forests & Barbizon and follow the artists’ trail of the forerunners of Impressionism
Montmartre continues to attract the avant garde crowd. It is no longer a working class neighbourhood but has continued to retain its special character. Montmartre is still very picturesque and is a great place to base yourself when traveling around Paris. For a list of hotels in Montmartre, see the link below.
For the links below, I receive a small commission when you purchase. Please note that you do not pay more when you buy through my site