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"For Weegee and Brassai alike, the only refuge from the night, the only sanctuary, was in the bars and cafes. Weegee's Montmartre was the Bowery." --"Night Light: Brassai and Weegee" (1976) by Colin Westerbeck

"We mounted a Montmartre bus and were pulled up the hill to the Boulevard Clichy, the main artery of that strange Bohemian mountain with its eccentric, fantastic, and morbid attractions. Before us, in the Place Blanche, stood the great Moulin Rouge, the long skeleton arms of the Red Mill marked with red electric lights and slowly sweeping across the heavens, while fanciful figures of students and dancing girls looked out the windows of the mill, and a great crowd of lively, chatting, laughing people were pushing their way toward the entrance of this famous dance-hall of Paris. Mr. Thompkins, entranced before the brilliant spectacle, asked somewhat hesitatingly if we might enter; but Bishop, wise in the ways of Montmartre, replied,—"Not yet. It is only a little after nine, and the Moulin does not get wide awake for some hours yet. We have no time to waste while waiting for that. We shall first visit heaven." Mr. Thompkins looked surprised, but made no response. Presently we reached the gilded gates of Le Cabaret du Ciel."--Bohemian Paris of To-day (1899) by W. C. Morrow

Montmartre, 1896, poster by  Maxime Dethomas
Montmartre, 1896, poster by Maxime Dethomas

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Montmartre is a hill 130 m. high, in the north of Paris in the 18th arrondissement, a part of the Right Bank, primarily known for the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré Cœur on its summit and as a nightclub district. Because artists such as Dali, Monet, and Picasso had studios or worked around the community of Montmartre, it is considered - along with Montparnasse - the birthplace of modern art.


Modern art

In the mid-19th century artists, such as Johan Jongkind and Camille Pissarro, came to inhabit Montmartre. By the end of the century, Montmartre and its counterpart on the Left Bank, Montparnasse, became the principal artistic centers of Paris.

Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and other impoverished artists lived and worked in a commune, a building called Le Bateau-Lavoir during the years 19041909.

Artist associations such as Les Nabis and the Incoherents were formed and individuals including Vincent van Gogh, Pierre Brissaud, Alfred Jarry, Gen Paul, Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Suzanne Valadon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Maurice Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile Steinlen worked in Montmartre and drew some of their inspiration from the area.

Composers, including Satie (who was a pianist at Le Chat Noir), also lived in the area.

The last of the bohemian Montmartre artists was Gen Paul (18951975), born in Montmartre and a friend of Utrillo, Paul's calligraphic expressionist lithographs, sometimes memorializing picturesque Montmartre itself, owe a lot to Raoul Dufy.


Montmartre means 'mountain of the martyr'; it owes its name to the martyrdom of Saint Denis, who was decapitated on the hill around 250 AD. Saint Denis was the Bishop of Paris and is the patron saint of France.

The hill's religious symbolism is thought to be even older, as it has been suggested as a likely druidic holy place because it is the highest point in the area.

19th century

When Napoleon III and his city planner Baron Haussmann planned to make Paris the most beautiful city in Europe, a first step was to grant large sweeps of land near the center of the city to Haussmann's friends and financial supporters. This drove the original inhabitants to the edges of the city — to the districts of Clichy, La Villette, and the hill with a view of the city, Montmartre.

Since Montmartre was outside the city limits, free of Paris taxes and no doubt also due to the fact that the local nuns made wine, the hill quickly became a popular drinking area. The area developed into a center of free-wheeling and decadent entertainment at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. In the popular cabaret the Moulin Rouge, and at Le Chat Noir, artists, singers and performers regularly appeared including Yvette Guilbert, Marcelle Lender, Aristide Bruant, La Goulue, Georges Guibourg, Mistinguett, Fréhel, Jane Avril, Damia and others.

Basilica of the Sacré Cœur was built on Montmartre from 1876 to 1912 by public subscription as a gesture of expiation after the defeat of 1871 in the Franco-Prussian War. Its white dome is a highly visible landmark in the city, where just below it artists still set up their easels each day amidst the tables and colorful umbrellas of Place du Tertre.

At the beginning of his political career, the future French statesman Georges Clemenceau (18411929) was mayor of Montmartre.

See also


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