Sunday, April 10, 2016

Paris in the Past and Montmartre: Two illustrated history books by Pierre Courthion

I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles
I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris
Why oh why do I love Paris?

My answer is a little different than the song.  I love Paris because I love art and I love history.  If you do too, you will like these two books I'm reviewing today.  You'll be hard pressed to find them because they're out of print.  I found them at a book fair this past year.  They're a little worn but the insides are filled with rich information and small detachable prints of art.,204,203,200_.jpg

Pierre Courthion, who was alive and knew personally many of the impressionist and post-impressionist artists provided the text for both of these books.  He includes quotes from conversations he had with Matisse, Modigliani and a few others.  Paris in the past starts all the way back to Julius Caesar who call the place "Lutetia".  The inhabitants of the region at the time were known as Parisii. It is not certain when Christianity was introduced but St. Denis and St. Genevieve (3rd and 5th centuries, respectively) are connected with the area by then called "Paris".

We then skip several centuries to the first great architect of the city who was King Philip Augustus in the 12th century.  From then on it's pretty smooth sailing with historical records and a reasonably accurate account of the artists and how well they preserved history through their art.
King Charles V entering Paris, ca. 1460
Hence we have wonderful Medieval miniatures of peasants, royalty, even religious persecutions and the burning of heretics, not to mention the Books of Hours that wealthy people used to pray.
Book of Hours
Ordeal of the heretics by Jean Fouquet ca. 1420

 The book progresses to the Twentieth century while describing all the historical events in between with contemporary paintings.
Tournament held on the Place Royale for the Marriage of Louis XIII, 1615 by Anonymous
The Coronation of Napoleon, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), 1805-1807
Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) Liberty guiding the People, July 28, 1830,204,203,200_.jpg 
 Montmartre is the same sort of book except that it traces the history of what was originally the countryside outside of Paris and is now a part of a northern corner inside the city.
Apparently, Montmartre was the haven for many artists, especially those of the late 19th century and first half of the twentieth century.  The cafe, the Moulin de la Galette was a popular meeting ground for many artists such as Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Vincent Van Gogh and Modigliani. Courthion devotes a chapter to each artist including but not limited to:
General view of Paris from Montmartre, ca. 1830 by Louis Daguerre (1787-1851)
Women in a cafe at Montmartre, 1877 by Edgar Degas (1834-1917)'Orsay_RF_2739_(derivative_work_-_AutoContrast_edit_in_LCH_space).jpg
The Moulin de la Galette, 1876 by Auguste Renoir (1841-1919),%20Le%20Moulin%20the%20La%20Galette.jpg
The Moulin de la Galette, 1886-1888 by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Toulouse-Lautrec's beloved Moulin Rouge is in Montmartre.'chilperic'_1895.jpg
The Moulin Rouge, 1895 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

Other artists such as Picasso, Georges Seurat and Pierre Bonnard are also given miniature biographies and their relationship to Montmartre.  Incidentally, this is also the area where the American and British writers such as Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce et al. congregated at cafes but they aren't included in this book.'_Chat_Noir)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Le Chat Noir was an entertainment establishment in Montmartre in the 19th century
Neither of these books are very long, about 100 pages each, but they are extremely interesting and include many prints of the artists who lived, celebrated and- not least- painted Paris and Montmarte.


  1. OH, WOW! I'm sold. I'll put them on my TBR list. I would like one day to just dedicate a list of books to read on French history. And art history is totally woven throughout culture, politics, and all of it. These would be nice.

    1. Hi Ruth! There are some really wonderful books around about French history and its contribution to art and many other things.
      One book I liked was David McCullough's The Greater Journey which was about famous Americans from 1830-1890 who traveled to Paris and lived there.

  2. These books look so impressive. How could anyone with any interest in art in history not be fascinated by Paris?

    My wife is particularly interested in a ll things Paris. I will recommend these books to her.

    1. Hi Brian! I absolutely agree. I hope you are able to find these books to give to your wife.

  3. Don't forget Braque, poor ole Braque everyone forgets him--
    Also, I highly recommend "Van Gogh: The Life" what a fascinating read.

    1. Hi Chris: I like Braque. Thanks for the info. I also looked up the Van Gogh book. It's on my "to buy" list.

  4. So beautiful, thanks for sharing all the images.

    1. Hi Barbara. You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed them.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.