La Ruche: A City of Artists in the City of Paris

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La Ruche: A City of Artists in the City of Paris
It’s rumored that all artists once stayed at La Ruche, the beehive of studios that many of Montparnasse’s painters and sculptors made home. Prior to 1900, Montparnasse had been more of a place of vaunted literature than art. Poets outnumbered painters. The neighborhood was home to sheep, the occasional traveling fair, scrubby farms and malodorous abattoirs. Poets from the nearby Latin Quarter used the sublime boulders and rubble from the neighborhood’s ancient system of quarries to artistically perch upon to recite their words. (C) Fondation La Ruche Seydoux Gradually the sculptors who raided the abandoned quarries’ leftovers began to congregate in the area. These artisans thought the district’s repurposed farm buildings suitable for their work. The spacious greenhouses and warehouses gave them ample room. The skylights and high ceilings were perfect for them. As Montparnasse became more accepting of the arts, more studios and painting academies cropped up. Near the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, paint and frame sellers set up shop. Models were readily found. There were communal artists’ buildings, not unlike Picasso’s Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre with a ramshackle collection of rooms with no heat or running water. One was in the Impasse du Maine and the Cité Falgiuère housed Foujita and Modigliani. But the most important was La Ruche. (C) Fondation La Ruche Seydoux On a whim, the academic sculptor Alfred Boucher bought a cheap plot of land, a wasteland consisting of .4ha downwind from the slaughterhouse region of Vaugirard known as La Zone. Sitting on a bit of a windfall, Boucher was intent on creating a space to help young artists with little resources. Boucher himself was a successful sculptor and had carved the busts of the Queen of Romania and the King of Greece, which paid very well indeed.  The creator of a veritable “who’s who” of Paris tombstones, he was also the friend of Auguste Rodin and the one-time mentor of Camille Claudel. Boucher didn’t build from scratch but created his folly from pieces salvaged from the 1900 Exposition Universelle. He reclaimed most of the Wine Rotunda that Gustave Eiffel had designed as a temporary structure and created over 100 primitive artists’ studios within it. Two caryatids from the British-India Pavilion flanked the front entrance. He sealed it off from the street with repurposed wrought iron gates brought from the Exposition’s Women’s Pavilion. Grandly christened the Villa Medici, the place was quickly known as La Ruche due to its beehive shape and the artists buzzing with intensive creativity within.

Lead photo credit : La Ruche Seydoux (C) La Ruche Seydoux website

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Beth Gersh-Nesic
    2021-07-20 08:57:45
    Beth Gersh-Nesic
    A brilliant and evocative description of this important part of art history. Thank you so much, Hazel!


  • Marilyn Brouwer
    2021-07-15 05:28:00
    Marilyn Brouwer
    Another amazing article Hazel. I knew nothing of La Ruche. Even more shameful Convention is where I lived for a year and a half in the late 1960's. Yet another place to visit when travelling becomes easier. Many thanks for this.