WHY DO WE STILL TALK ABOUT MONTMARTRE TODAY?

The fame of this place, a melting pot of creativity and a haven for uprooted and unorthodox art, still represents the Bohemian spirit of yesteryear, when it was the cradle of some of the most important pictorial movements of the 19th century. But what factors met in this neighbourhood to become what it was?

Jules Grün. Motmartre's Song, 1900 Litographic proof for a cover © Private colection (image from caixaforum.es)

Montmartre was an independent population, which, in 1860, was added to the city of Paris to become its eighteenth district. The proliferation of brothels, cabarets and show halls of scant reputation made the neighbourhood a very badly considered area that, nevertheless, strongly attracted some artists. The reasons were diverse, but above all, gentrification phenomenon stands out. Napoleon III, together with his leading urban designer Baron Haussmann, wanted to make Paris the most beautiful city in Europe. As a result, there was an ordering of the centre and the displacement of groups of citizens who were relocated to nearby towns, as happened in Montmartre.

Maxime Dethomas, “Poster Montmartre”, 1897 (image from nataliamartinlago.com)

This hill was also the main stage of the Franco-Prussian War, which took place between 1870 and 1871, and the rise of the revolutionary movement "the Paris Commune". Turned into a battlefield, chance made that its name, "mount of martyrs" gained meaning after the numerous casualties in the French army. At the end of the conflict, in 1873, the National Assembly agreed to build the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur in homage to the fallen. Today this temple is an emblem of the neighbourhood that shines on the hill illuminated by the sun and can be seen from the old city.

Pierre Marie Louis Vidal, Cover of “La Vie à Montmartre” (detail), 1897. Litography © Private collection / Photographer: Elsevier Stokmans Fotografie (image from caixaforum.es)

We can imagine that an atmosphere full of meaning like the one that reigned at the end of the 19th century, in a marginal neighbourhood, punished by war, decadent, indecent and proud was a natural refuge for those who wanted to live outside the system. They wanted to be free from the confining of liberalism, the formalities of high society, the artifices of Parisian pomposity and life away from the real vital pulse that connects the human passions, good and bad, in an environment where they can run freely. To all this ideological context joins, of course, money, because survival is easier and cheaper in a neighbourhood of a bad reputation.

View of the exhibition room in CaixaForum (image from caixaforum.es)

This set of elements constituted the breeding ground of an unprecedented cultural flowering. The artists met and shared experiences around the Bateau-Lavoir, a building that served as a welcome centre for many creators and where Picasso and Modigliani were at the beginning. Montmartre and, on the opposite bank of the Seine, Montparnasse were the cradle of a creative interest that fed back. Pissarro and Johan Jongkind, and then Renoir, Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gen Paul, Villon and many others set at that time several associations of artists and consolidated a link today inseparable between the neighbourhood and art. With their determination and their desire to be above the established canons, they managed to write a chapter of their own in the history of world art.

We recommend you take advantage of the last days of the exhibition "Toulouse-Lautrec and the spirit of Montmartre" at CaixaForum Madrid, to relive a part of that time and immerse yourself in an episode of history that brings together 350 works from around the world (untill May 19th).

 

Buying the first work of art always instils respect. A difficult feeling to define that mixes vertigo with adrenaline. But over uncertainty and caution, a pleasurable sense of connection, understanding, and desire prevails. That work that, once seen, stays in the mind, reappears in the memory several times a day and seems to tell you that it is willing to be part of your home, is the perfect candidate to make the decision.

In the first steps, many collectors do point out that one does not start from an established plan, but rather that one acquires pieces based on taste and the connection one feels with them until, after time, they realise that the volume of works that accumulates can be labelled as a "collection". For example, this is how Alicia Aza explains it:

“I was not aware that I was collecting until many years later when a third party named me as a collector and talked about my collection. In 2005, I became aware of what collecting means and decided to articulate a collection with an identity of criteria and formats”.

Marcos Martín Blanco, co-founder, with his wife Elena Rueda, of the MER Collection, shares this same opinion:

“Collecting has been a passion, driven by a visceral state that encourages you to do so. The collection, in terms of acquisitions, has not been particularly complicated because, let's face it: it is easy to buy because they are all beautiful things and you have some clear idea of where you want to go, but at first those preferences were not so clear. It is with the time that a criterion is being formed”.

It is not always this way, of course, but for the buyer who starts out on this path, the personal connection that entails the first piece is essential. There it is the germ of a lasting relationship that is not limited to a simple aesthetic question but is an open window to knowledge, to exploration, to a world that is often unknown to us and awakens our fascination. The seed of that connection is purely sentimental, and it is precisely this impulse that determines the first acquisitions. The first piece is never forgotten.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Ana Maqueda

Exceeding the usual recommendations made by advisers and agents, rare is the occasion when the art lover decides to buy by pure investment. These paths usually open later, when the volume of pieces is large enough. In addition, there are those who are a bit against this classic concept of the traditional collector, approached from an eccentric, elitist and little accessible vision. On the contrary, art buyers are, above all, art lovers, sentient beings and permeable to creative stimulus who, at a given moment, decide to deepen the relationship they already have with art to take a piece home.

It is not that hard to overcome that small psychological barrier that turns the visitor into a buyer if one approaches the matter from a more personal and intimate perspective than from social consideration. Small-format works, graphic work or serial photography are of great help for this, whose price range, generally more affordable, allows a closer comparison to the daily basis expenses. In this way, the purchase of art falls within the range of feasible activities and becomes something close and possible.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Marc Cisneros

At that moment, a different relationship with art begins, based on pure experience and coexistence with the acquired piece. Perhaps it can be seen as an act of daring, but on many occasions, it is more a matter of necessity and transformation. Collectors also agree that the acquisition of an artwork is an exercise on personal analysis and opening up to a new field of knowledge that was previously alien to us. Alicia Aza explains that the reason she acquired her first piece of video art, by Sergio Prego, is because she did not understand it and because she saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to self-improve. This open window to knowledge creates new connections and bonds with creators, as one of the most fascinating parts of the process. Candela Álvarez Soldevilla explains that

"I think the most interesting thing in the art world is talking to artists. They are people with a special sensitivity to listen and understand.”

And Alicia Aza also says:

"I can share the satisfaction of being able to count on many artists in my circle of close friends today, and that is a long way to go."

Thus, with works that seem acceptable within the horizon of expenses that each one considers affordable, it is easy to find a piece that catches us. Since then, our home also evolves into a space in which art has a permanent place and presence, and there is no doubt that this transforms us inside.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Henar Herguera

Jaime Sordo, owner of Los Bragales collection and founder of the 9915 Contemporary Art Collectors Association, has always defined his relationship with art as a true passion and a vital necessity. For buyers who start on this path, he has the following recommendation:

“It is an essential condition that they feel the need to live with their passion to enjoy the works. Another very important aspect is that before making decisions for purchases, they are informed, so it is necessary to read specialised newspapers and books, visit exhibitions and museums and a lot of contact with galleries, which is an important and very specific source of information of the artists they represent. Finally, the presence in national and international art fairs. All this generates information and training.”

Indeed, fairs have become a good place for discovery because they condense a wide offer and allow diverse and global contact in a concentrated way. For this reason, many new generation buyers start in the context of an event such as Art Madrid, whose closeness and quality constitute a unique opportunity to meet, soak up and feed the passion for art.

(*) quotes taken from various interviews published in public media between 2013 and 2019.