Montmarte in Whistler’s Time

Nicholas, still remembering Mr. Deacon at the Louvre in about 1919, says that Mr. Deacon bemoaned the “‘Americanisation’ of the Latin Quarter,” and said, “I sometimes think of moving up to Montmartre, like an artist of Whistler’s time.” [BM 17/ ~13]

Portrait of Whistler with a Hat James McNeill Whistler, 1857-1859 The Freer Gallery Oil on canvas H: 46.3 W: 38.1 cm

Portrait of Whistler with a Hat
James McNeill Whistler, 1857-1859
The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthus M. Sackler Gallery (with permission)
Oil on canvas
H: 46.3 W: 38.1 cm

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was born in America, spent part of his  childhood in Russia, attended West Point, and did his best known painting in Britain; however, he did live and study in Paris from 1855 until about 1859 and later returned there from time to time.  His method of study included copying paintings at the Louvre; this self portrait from his Parisian student days strongly reflects the influence of the Rembrandts that he studied in the Louvre.  He lived at this time in the Latin Quarter and was often penurious, selling few paintings. In 1859 he moved to London . 

Montmartre developed as a hillside village of farms and windmills, north of central Paris.   The village became urbanized in the second half of the nineteenth century and began to attract artist’s studios.  Whistler, returning to Paris in 1861, rented a studio there. However, the heyday of Montmartre, vying with the Latin Quarter as the artistic center of Paris, was really in the 1880’s and 90’s when artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Degas, and Renoir painted there. (Myers, Nicole. “The Lure of Montmartre, 1880–1900”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000). We suspect that Deacon was not yearning for the flamboyant Montmartre of Toulouse-Lautrec but, rather, knew this history of Whistler’s time and was nostalgic for the 1860s before bohemian became chic. As for Whistler, when he moved back to Paris in 1892, he settled in the more aristocratic Faubourg St. Germain.

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