I suppose the greatest inspiration for First Impressionism came from my visit to the Place du Tertre in 2006.
We first toured Sacre-Coeur on the top of the hill. Then we made our way through the small winding streets of Montmartre to the square in the center of the village. Artists with their easels lined its perimeter, some offering to paint portraits or caricatures, others showcasing their original art of iconic Parisian sights.
While many consider this spot the heart of tourism, I see a Paris of yesteryear. Struggling artists often made Montmartre their home. Painters like Degas and Cassatt in the late nineteenth century, and artists like Picasso and Dali during the early twentieth century.
I envision their cramped studios on the top floor of one of the nearby brownstones. I imagine they awake at sunrise, compelled to follow its light. Once they find the right spot, they set up their easels and feverishly sketch the scene before the light changes. They paint the ordinariness of every day life as if seeing it for the first time. They paint for love of art and nature rather than mercenary reasons.
Today, small cafes surround the square, where many visitors accept their offer of a nice place to sit, sip a coffee, and people-watch. Once again, I imagine the Impressionists (and post-Impressionists) ending the day sipping an espresso with one another, discussing the nuances of light, the blending of colors, the beauty of art.
I suppose I have an active imagination.
But in 2006 I vowed one year I would return to Paris, and I would live in Montmartre. That dream became a reality just five years later.
I rented a one-bedroom apartment for two solid weeks. My goal was to live like a Parisian. I brushed up on my French before I left, and I tried to speak the native language as often as possible.
I became familiar with the local boulangerie (bread store), the local wine merchant, and a stand-alone kiosk that sold the best roasted chicken I have ever tasted.
And I also frequented the Place du Tertre on a daily basis. My favorite time was mid-morning. The streets were clear and the air crisp and cool. A few artists would set up early, but most would saunter in around 10:00am. Tourists were few and there was ample room to walk and enjoy the art.
While I would venture to the “city” each day, I always looked forward to returning home – to my village. The pace is a little less hectic, the neighborhood a little more intimate, and the vibe a little more casual. Yes, Montmartre will always be my Parisian home away from home.