Cité des Fusains: The Hidden Artist Studios of Montmartre

Cité des Fusains: The Hidden Artist Studios of Montmartre
The Rue Tourlaque runs steeply downhill until it abruptly meets the walls of Montmartre Cemetery. Behind the gates of number 22 lies a complex of artists studios known as the Cité des Fusains (Charcoal City), which in the early 1900s was just as well known as the famous Bateau Lavoir.   Situated at place Émile-Goudeau, the Bateau Lavoir was a former ballroom and piano factory, later occupied as an artist squat in 1889. The 20 unheated ateliers shared a single source of water, so the building was inevitably dirty and on windy days it swayed and creaked like the washing boats on the Seine. Despite its rudimentary facilities, the Bateau Lavoir was home to innovative artists and writers such as Picasso, Modigliani, Juan Gris, André Salmon, Max Jacob, Matisse, Braque, Utrillo and Marie Laurencin.  Le_Bateau-Lavoir. Photo Credit: Christies/Wikimedia Commons Unlike the makeshift workshops in the Bateau Lavoir, the workshops of Les Fusains were purpose built. The original set of ateliers were constructed in 1900 on the Rue Steinlen on a disused plot of the Montmartre Cemetery but by 1920, the plot had expanded into the Rue Tourlaque.   Because of its location and atmospheric streets, untouched by Haussmann’s regeneration of Paris, Montmartre was a cheap place to live, and also an exciting place, filled with cabarets, bals musettes, and louche bars. The atmosphere— marked by cheap absinthe and licentious living — was an irresistible lure for bohemians and artists of every genre.  Within a short walk o Sacre Coeur, Picasso had a first studio in Rue Gabrielle. Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo had an apartment in the Rue Lepic near La Moulin de la Galette, immortalized by almost every artist who ever lived there. Toulouse Lautrec and Degas had studios in Montmartre and of course Renoir famously lived in the Rue Cortot (now the Musée de Montmartre), which housed at various times, Raoul Dufy, Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo.   Rue Lepic in 1925, seen from Place Blanche. Photo Credit: Anonymous/Wikimedia Commons Unlike Renoir’s 17th-century house, the oldest structure in Montmartre, the Cité des Fusains was constructed with recycled materials. After the Universal Exhibition in 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was first showcased, the old pavilions were dismantled and the materials reused: wooden frames, bricks and glass. Architect Robert Bourdeau oversaw the construction of lightweight, glass-roofed workshops, some three stories high.   The workshops were cheap to rent and immediately attracted artists, the most famous being André Derain in 1906, followed by Georges Joubin, Pierre Bonnard and Auguste Renoir. (Renoir painted his beautiful portrait of Berthe Morisot in his studio there.) Derain was especially interesting. He and Matisse were nicknamed “Les Fauves” (Wild Beasts) when they introduced a new art movement– they were exposed to virulent ridicule after showing their works at the Salon d’Automne in 1905.  

Lead photo credit : Montmartre, Paris. Photo Credit: Nezar Kadhem/Flickr

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After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.