Parisian Street Art: Montmartre

As well as being a hotbed of tourism, Montmartre is also a vibrant area for street artists to ply their trade. It adds a dynamism to a walk around the district, and seems fitting for an area that has such strong associations with subversive and provocative art over the centuries, and was the former haunt of Dali, Picasso, Modigliani and Mondrian, to name but a few.

It’s definitely worth exploring some of the back lanes and alleyways to uncover Montmartre’s newest wave of unconventional artists. Besides, it’s a generally accepted inter-galactic rule that you should always do what Yoda tells you.

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Proving that there is plenty of living artists – and not just the water colourists and caricaturists selling their work to tourists – Montmartre is home to plenty of interesting and creative pieces of street art. It seems to add to the spirit of the place, and flies in the face of the overwhelming commercialisation that dominates around the main streets and plazas.

If you’re interested in street art, Montmartre is a good place to visit. It also provides a good reason for getting off the (heavily) beaten tourist track to explore a few of the less visited streets and alleys that make up the area. You never know, you may be uncovering some new masterpieces…

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Scenes from the streets of Montmartre

A village with a unique history sits on a hill, a city sprawling at its feet. That, at least, is how Montmartre feels when you wander its streets and glimpse the sweeping vistas of Paris that its elevated status affords. Even amidst the tourist hoards – and this is as touristy as it gets – Montmartre still feels special. This is, after all, the place that nurtured innumerable writers and artists, and is the home of the legendary Moulin Rouge.

Montmarte is famed for the alternative lifestyle that it afforded the many artists that have taken inspiration from it. Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec are chief amongst those who have immortalised this patch of the 18th arrondissement, its cabarets and Chartreuse-drinking ways. It’s an area that has become very touristed, but no visit to Paris would be complete without a few hours spent walking Montmartre’s lanes.

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

We had a lunch in Montmarte that perfectly defines why it’s different to much of the rest of the world. Descending down steep flights of stairs and narrow streets from Place du Tertre, and the crush of people at the Sacre Coeur, we found a quiet cafe on a corner to sit and relax. Fate had a far more interesting experience in store for us.

As we sat enjoying a glass of wine, a delivery vehicle drove past spilling liquid all over the cobbled street. We assumed it was water. It was vegetable oil, and it turned the street into an ice rink. People slipped and fell over. Cars almost crashed. Luckily, a couple of drunks decided this state of affairs couldn’t continue. Through a mixture of shouted warnings and elaborate mimes, they stopped cars and pedestrians to warn them of the dangers.

It was an entertaining couple of hours of unintentional street theatre, that brought the local community together to watch and critique the situation. This vignette of local life and local characters, seemed a long way from the crowds and tour groups that throng the main streets and squares of Montmartre, and the ever-present caricature artists roaming around looking for a commission.

Montmartre itself has come a long way from the predominantly working-class neighbourhood that was known for its revolutionary politics, and attracted artists, writers and intellectuals to its bohemian way of life. Subversive politics, and a rejection of the morality of the day, thrived in Montmartre’s vibrant cafes and raucous cabarets. It would be hard to make that claim today.

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

There are still some rough edges to the area, but tourism and gentrification have taken their toll on Montmartre’s bohemian legacy. I doubt a struggling artist like Van Gogh, or even an established artist like Toulouse-Lautrec, would be able to afford the rents today. They’d be horrified by the prices being asked in the area’s cafes and restaurants.

We started our wander around Montmartre at the Abbesses metro station, home to the I Love You wall, and made our way down narrow streets and up steep stairways taking in the area’s most famous sights: the Bateau Lavoire in Place Émile Goudeau, where Picasso and many other artistic luminaries lived; the 17th century Moulin de la Galette, a flour mil immortalised by Renoir and Van Gogh; the Lapin Agile cabaret; Montmartre’s vineyards; Sacré-Cœur; and the Place du Tertre.

Dalida statue, Montmatre, Paris, France

Dalida statue, Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Moulin de la Galette, Montmatre, Paris, France

Moulin de la Galette, Montmatre, Paris, France

'i love you' wall, Montmatre, Paris, France

‘i love you’ wall, Montmatre, Paris, France

Bateau Lavoire, Montmatre, Paris, France

Bateau Lavoire, Montmatre, Paris, France

It’s an evocative and, away from the crowds, atmospheric place. For all of Montmartre’s sights though, it will be our lunch and street cabaret that sticks in the memory.

A Parisian weekend

Paris was the first European city I visited as an 18 year-old fresh out of school. It has a lot of memories for me, yet it’s been more than ten years since I last visited. Far too much time to ignore such a wonderful town. In the decade between my last visit and now, the City of Lights has suffered some terrible blows. I’ve read about how Paris has changed, how the joie de vivre of Parisians had suffered as a result of the recent terror attacks.

Don’t believe it. This is an irrepressible city. Energy and creativity run through its veins. It’s a treasure trove of culture, full of life. Life that is still lived large on the streets, cafe culture thrives, cars still hurtle around at dangerous speeds, and people are, despite persistent stereotyping, friendly. The moment we stepped off the train at Gare du Nord, you couldn’t mistake this for any other city on the planet.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Still, the attacks have kept over a million tourists away this year, and have brought military patrols onto the streets. The last time I saw camouflaged soldiers walking down pedestrian streets and through urban parks, I was in Belfast and they were British soldiers. The French soldiers are friendlier – unlike Belfast no one actually pointed a gun at me – but soldiers on the streets don’t make this civilian feel safe.

There is so much to do in Paris, and so much we wanted to do, but with only three days you have to make some hard choices. We had a handful of things we decided we couldn’t miss: the Musee d’Orsay, housing the greatest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world; the Père Lachaise Cemetery, which doubles as an open-air gallery; and the narrow streets of Montmartre.

We were staying along the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin. An area that has grown in popularity since its now iconic iron bridges formed a backdrop to the 2001 film Amélie, featuring the wonderful Audrey Tautou. It’s a vibrant and artistic area, considered the new up-and-coming bohemian hotspot. It still has plenty of rough edges, but it’s a place full of vitality, great little bars, cafes and restaurants.

We spent lots of time exploring the area around the canal, sitting in cafes watching scenes of daily Parisian life. The rest of our time was spent wandering the busy but entertaining streets of Le Marais and the banks of the Seine. This is one of my favourite areas, but it has definitely gone up market. When we last stayed in the Marais, the shared toilet that came with our tiny room was in a cupboard, on the stairway.

Gare du Nord, Paris, France

Gare du Nord, Paris, France

Sculpture, Paris, France

Sculpture, Paris, France

Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Nearby is the Île Saint-Louis and the Île de la Cité, home to Notre Dame. Visiting both involves multiple bridge crossings of the Seine, all of which give a different perspective of the river. The nearby Pont des Arts, a pedestrianised bridge with views over the islands, was once notorious for nearly collapsing under the weight of 45 tonnes of ‘lovers’ padlocks. This part of the City of Romance is now padlock free … who thought the jailer’s instruments would come to symbolise love?

Paris is so famous, has featured in so many films, novels, plays and artworks, and comes with such expectations, that it would be easy to reduce it to cliché. It’s hard not to, in fact. But, like the Amsterdam of red lights and coffee shops, the cliché exist only to distract from the far more interesting reality. Paris is a city that, given even half a chance, will challenge all preconceptions. Time to hit the streets and explore.