Montmartre Then and Now

Montmartre Then and Now

Montmartre is a familiar setting for art aficionados the world over, having housed and entertained a veritable army of painters, writers and tastemakers through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today’s Montmartre has certainly changed, but you won’t have to dig deep to find evidence of its flamboyant, creative past.

Montmartre gets its name from its highest peak, which now holds the pearl-white dome of the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. Once a rural winemaking village, Montmartre was not subsumed into the growing metropolis of Paris until the 19th century, but by then it was already popular with Parisians for its cheap, nun-made wine and loose social codes. A perfect storm of events coincided in the mid-19th century to make the neighborhood a vibrant epicenter of groundbreaking art, entertainment and philosophy, and by the fin de siècle Montmartre had wedged its way solidly into history books around the world.

Montmartre’s list residents, performers, admirers and frequent visitors is the kind that doesn’t require first names: Picasso, Pissarro, Dali, Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Hemingway—to name just a few. These legends didn’t gather just to calmly discuss their cutting-edge techniques over coffee and croissants, but rather they and their neighbors assembled over the backdrop of a bourgeoning and increasingly racy cabaret scene. From the Moulin Rouge to the Moulin de la Gallette, Montmartre was the top party hotspot in Paris. For a glimpse into the life lived by your average resident of the neighborhood in its heyday, head to the Musée d’Orsay to see Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Gallette, or watch 2001’s Moulin Rouge!, centering on the life of Lautrec and a few fictional hangers-on. By the middle of the 20th century most of Montmartre’s renowned artists had either died or moved on, but the neighborhood was left with a rich heritage and a thriving club scene. Today you can still see a cabaret at the legendary Moulin Rouge club on the Boulevard de Clichy, and if you know where to look you can seek out the residences, studios and late-night haunts of the generation that started it all. While commercial establishments often have plaques to let you know who used to dine there, residences are off the radar so if you want to pay homage you’ll have to do your homework first.

While you’re exploring, be sure to check out the Espace Dalí, showcasing over 300 worksby the Spanish surrealist who once called this hill home. The Place du Tertre, just behind the Sacre Coeur, also deserves at least a walk-through, and you might be surprised by the talent you’ll find hawking souvenir portraits in this hallowed square. The best way to walk in the footsteps of Montmartre’s great artists is to eat where they ate, drink where they drank, and live where they lived. For those seeking the ultimate Montmartre immersion, we offer a slew of apartments at a variety of prices, so whether you’re poor like Picasso or rich like Renoir, you’ll always have a place to call home in Montmartre.