Paris Reflections Montparnasse

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Paris Reflections Montparnasse
Having recently met many African/Diaspora artists and seen their wonderful, powerful works, my thoughts have turned time and again to the African-American artists who refined their talents in Paris. The godfather of them all, Henry Ossawa Tanner, came here in 1891; scores of painters and sculptors followed in his wake throughout the 20th century, particularly after World War II. Many, like Tanner, settled in Montparnasse.  The following excerpt from Paris Reflections: Walks Through African-American Paris gives some insight into these days and times. — At No. 15 in this street (rue Bréa) was another apartment occupied by Laura Wheeler Waring. Waring was one of 12 African-American artists who came to Paris to study between 1922 and 1934. These and several other African Americans, including writer Claude McKay, made up what was dubbed the "Negro Colony" of Montparnasse.   Continue down rue Bréa until it intersects with rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs; turn right. The next street that you will encounter is rue Jules Chaplain. At an number unknown in this street, painter Herbert Gentry and his wife Honey opened a combination art gallery and jazz club called Chez Honey. African-American art was featured by day and African-American music was featured by night. Many great artists performed here, including Duke Ellington and Lena Horne. Number 6 in this street was the Maison Watteau, occupied in 1920 by a group of Scandinavian artists who held expositions and gave courses. Hale Woodruff, Aaron Douglas and Augusta Savage were students of the Académie Scandinave during the late 1920s, presumably at the same address.   Continue walking down the right side of rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. No. 70 was once the home and studio of the great Henry O. Tanner. He and his family lived here from 1904 to 1922. Tanner first came to Paris in 1891 on his way to Rome, but fell in love with the city and made it his home. You may see where he first lived in Paris if you take the Musée d’Orsay walk found in this book.   Proceed to the next intersection, rue de la Grande Chaumière. Turn onto this street.  No. 4 was the home of surrealist poet Ted Joans and his Belgian girlfriend. No. 8  was the home of Nina Hamnett, a British painter who was a friend of writer Claude McKay. McKay reportedly visited Hamnett often here. At No. 10 stood the Académie Colarossi, one of two avant-garde art schools that attracted large numbers of African Americans over the last century. The Académie de la Grande Chaumière at No. 14 was even more popular. Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, William Edouard Scott, Loïs Mailou Jones, Ed Clark, and Herbert Gentry are among the African Americans who have studied at these two institutions since 1900.   Walk up the street to boulevard du Montparnasse and turn left. Go to the next block which is rue Chevreuse. On the corner, where a large brasserie now stands, the famous Jockey Club once operated. This was the second address for the club, which represented Montparnasse’s first night club. You will see the original address later on this tour. Turn onto rue Chevreuse. The American University Women’s Club and the American Art Students Club for Women, once located at No. 4, had the dubious distinction of having refused lodging to Meta Vaux Warwick Fuller in October 1899 because she was black. The Women’s Club is now known as Reid Hall.   Walk to the corner of rue Chevreuse and rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs and turn right. Continue up the street, passing the American painter Whistler’s home at No. 86 on the right. Artist William H. Johnson, who lived in France from 1926-1929, occupied an apartment in this building in 1926. Fernand Léger of the Ecole de Paris had a studio in this same building. Students benefiting from the G.I. Bill could study at his Académie as well as those that you have just seen; John Wilson and Richard Boggers were among his pupils. Continue to avenue de l’Observatoire and turn right. On the corner is the famous café La Closerie des Lilas. This is the place from where the original call to writers and artists went out in the early twentieth century, transforming Montparnasse into an international creative arts center for decades. In the post-World War II years, Herbert Gentry commented on U.S. influence in the area, saying "It was the Americans who made Montparnasse" …   … Cross boulevard du Montparnasse and turn right. Walk down the street to rue Campagne Première. On the west corner of rue Campagne Première and boulevard du Montparnasse was the original Jockey Club. This night spot, which catered to everyone without distinction of class or wealth, was captured in an oil painting by Archibald Motley. At an unknown number in this street, Claude McKay worked in artist André Lhote’s poorly heated studio and caught pneumonia. Turn left and walk up the street on the left side. At No. 9 is a former artists’ residence created from materials salvaged from the buildings at the 1899 Paris World Fair. Loïs Mailou Jones had a magnificent studio here.   Jones may be the most celebrated female African-American artist of her time. She first came to Paris to study in 1937, arriving a few months after the death of Henry O. Tanner. Meta Vaux Warwick Fuller was one of her mentors; she played a large part in Jones’ decision to come to Paris. Jones took up residence on rue Campagne Première when she studied at the Académie Julian, which can be seen on another walk in this book. — Monique Y. Wells is co-owner of Discover Paris!  – Personalized Itineraries for Independent Travelers as well as the author of Food for the Soul – A Texas Expatriate Nurtures her Culinary Roots in Paris and Paris Reflections  –  Walks Through African-American Paris (co-authored with BP writer/editor Christiann Anderson).
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