Le Bateau Lavoir, birthplace of Cubism

from the Artsology series The Arts Adventurer

The Arts Adventurer in Paris: Without question, Pablo Picasso is one of my favorite artists, and to visit Paris, where he lived and worked for much of his life, affords some unique opportunities. One place that I visited was Montmartre, a neighborhood in the 18th arrondissement of Paris that is famous in art history as the residence and meeting place for many of the important artists of early modern art. Picasso had a studio in Montmartre, at No. 13 Rue Ravignan, and the studio building was nicknamed "Le Bateau Lavoir."

One can visit the area where Le Bateau Lavoir is located, but the actual studio is not open to the public; there’s a small storefront (shown below) with a plaque noting the history of the location, and the storefront window display has several pictures and text explaining more about the studios and the artists that worked there. When Picasso had his studio here, from 1904 – 1909, the other artists with studios in Le Bateau Lavoir included Fernande Olivier (whom he met there and had a relationship with for 7 years), Kees Van Dongen, Juan Gris, Amedeo Modigliani, and Jacques Vaillant, among others.

storefront marking the location of Le Bateau Lavoir, Picasso's one time studio

I think plenty of people mistakenly think this storefront (above) was the studio where Picasso worked; however, as one can see over the door, the address there is No. 11, and as we stated above, the main entrance to the actual studios, including Picasso’s, was next door at No. 13, pictured here. It’s a non-descript building and doorway, which stands in strong contrast to what went on inside here over 100 years ago, when Picasso was developing a style which eventually becamse known as Cubism.

The fact that one can only sit in this courtyard, known during Picasso’s time as Place Ravignan (and since renamed as Place Émile Goudeau), and not actually see the studio or anything related to Picasso and Cubism beyond what I’ve shown you here, is somewhat unfortunate, but it does force you to use your imagination. It’s all you can do to sit and imagine Picasso and Georges Braque, who helped fuel the style of Cubism (and whose own studio was approximately 2 blocks away), going back and forth between their studios, exchanging ideas and having creative bursts of energy.

entrance to Le Bateau Lavoir, Picasso's studio where he invented cubism

I was able to find these photographs of Picasso - apparently taken on the same day, if you study his clothes carefully - standing in Place Ravignon outside of Le Bateau Lavoir (below left), along with two shots inside the studio (below center and right). This last picture has a photo credit, which would make one think all three were taken by the same guy: Frank Gelett Burgess, an artist, art critic, and writer who visited Paris and interviewed key figures in the arts, including Picasso, Braque, Matisse and others, which he later wrote about in an article titled The Wild Men of Paris.

photographs of Pablo Picasson on Place Ravignan and within his studio Le Bateau Lavoir, taken by Frank Gelatt Burgess

It’s a little hard to get a sense of Place Émile Goudeau and the area around Le Bateau Lavoir from still photographs, so I’m including a short video clip here that pans from the far right around to the left and beyond Le Bateau Lavoir, and then moves back to finish on the front door of the studio.

Here is a historical photograph showing Le Bateau Lavoir in 1905, at the time that Picasso had his studio there. According to Picasso biographer John Richardson, Picasso’s studio was on the ground floor at the end of the front door passage, back to the right, which would place it beyond our view in this picture, somewhere behind the wall of the taller structure at right. This floor plan (a version of which is displayed in the storefront at No. 11 Place Ravignan) confirms Richardson's placement, and allows us to get a better idea of where Picasso was making his art in this building.

photograph of the exterior of Le Bateau Lavoir, along with a floor plan showing the location of Pablo Picasso's studio inside

Since Montmartre is built on rolling hills, the picture above left is somewhat deceptive in that the front of the building was only one story, but the backside, due to the hill sloping down, actually included 3 floors. The additional two floors are actually below the front entry level on Rue Ravignon, as you can see from the historical rear view photograph below left. Below right is my own photograph showing the present-day courtyard behind Le Bateau Lavoir (you can see the matching cobblestone street), which matches up with the bottom floor that you see in the photograph at left.

photograph of the back side exterior of Le Bateau Lavoir, the location of Pablo Picasso's studio where he invented cubism

Picasso stencil graffiti at La Bateau Lavoir based on Arnold Newman's photograph

One last thing I wanted to point out - in the very first picture posted at the top of the page, you may have noticed what looks like a line drawing on the wall to the right of the storefront (far left at left). It’s actually a stencil-and-spray paint graffiti piece, showing an interpretation of photographer Arnold Newman’s famous 1954 portrait of Picasso, seen at left.

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