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Published: August 13th 2015
Lost Generation Hangout Le Dome in Montparnasse
Where Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and other writers, artists and intellectuals of The Lost Generation hung out after WWI.
I didn’t want to embarrass Michel or myself, so, for days before the art workshop, I went on YouTube and the web, and watched videos of drawing the human figure in order to learn what I had forgotten. Michel told me the artists at the workshop would be using different mediums; paints, pastels, color pencils, charcoals, etc., but that all I needed was my pad of paper and pencil. That’s all he would be using.
Last Saturday, it took only 15 minutes to walk through nearby Luxembourg Garden to the Academie de La Grande Chaumiere in the Montparnasse district. The Academie looks just like a typical, old store front in a typical, old Parisian building, yet its old and disheveled insides have been the setting for art classes since 1902. According to Wikipedia, "the school refused to teach the strict academic rules of painting of the Ecole des Beaux-Artes (School of Fine Arts) and opened the way to the 'Art Indépendant' (Independent Art)."
Gauguin, Chagall, Cezanne, Modigliani and others painted here. Gauguin's old atelier is next door, and there's a plaque above the door stating such. An art supply house down the block created the first oil paint crayons
Academie de la Grande Chaumiere
Valentine stands at the door, watching me with suspicion.
at Picasso’s request, and art supplies are still sold there, including oil crayons. The Academie is in the heart of the famous Montparnasse district that became a cultural magnet for artists, authors and intellectuals immediately following WWI. The Lost Generation is a phrase coined by Gertrude Stein, referring to the soldiers and others during that period who seemed lost after experiencing the war first hand.
Ernest Hemingway often sat at the Closerie des Lilas Restaurant
a few blocks up Montparnasse Boulevard, away from where most of the others drank and partied too much. Even though Hemingway credited Stein with The Lost Generation term, he later wrote, “there was no such thing as a lost generation" and that Gertrude Stein's comment was a piece of "splendid bombast." Among many other cultural figures that inhabited Montparnasse were F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, James Joyce and Ezra Pound. That’s enough of this stuff that I find interesting. You can google it, if you want more.
At the studio, Michel introduced me to Valentine, the grumpy, old Academie manager for the month of August, and I was given a free pass for my first visit. Before Michel arrived, Valentine had stopped me
from taking a picture inside the empty workshop. Later, Michel insisted I take some pictures, telling me it was fine as long as the nude model wasn't there. I was dubious, and I looked around for Valentine as I took a few pictures. I didn’t want to make a bad impression on Valentine in case I returned to further my art.
The large room had a very high ceiling, and was soon packed with artists setting up their stations. There were stools of three different heights all around so that artists could set up their canvas or pad on one stool; brushes, palettes on another, and sit on another. There were also small tables in the very front, closest to where the model would be. That’s where Michel set up his station. Michel told me emphatically and slowly that I could draw whatever I wanted, and that no one will judge me here. So, with that in mind, I went to the back of the room where no one could see my work, and climbed a bench that stretched along the whole back wall which put me and a few others four feet higher than the rest, and also
gave me a good view of many of the artists and their work.
When Michel gave me a tour of the building earlier, he showed me a schedule that was posted on the wall. There would be several different posings; some for as short as 15 minutes followed by a small break, then other ones for as long as 45 minutes. The whole session was scheduled from 1 pm to 5 pm. There were two rooms for posings in the building. We were downstairs at the ‘classical’ posings, which were stationary poses. We walked up the narrow, spiral wooden stairway to another big room where the other type would be - the type where the model moves constantly. As we maneuvered down the stairway, I was introduced to the model for that upper room. It was a male model. I wondered which gender we were scheduled for.
It was a woman. The first few poses came pretty fast for me. The third one looked too difficult, so I just drew the setting instead - the stage, the fabric covering the stage, the drapes along the wall, etc. Later, when I felt rushed again, I ignored the current pose
and went back to rework previous ones. I also sat and watched some of the other artists from my perch. They all looked good to me. There was an American woman I met later who, during one pose, sketched and shaded just the head and face, using both halves of her big sketchbook. It looked pretty good to me.
I learned how historic the area is during the breaks. Michel walked me around to nearby famous restaurants like the La Rotonde, Le Dome and Le Select, which are all situated pretty much on one corner. He would ask the waiters if he could show his friend the paintings on the walls. They all seemed happy to accommodate us. I said merci beaucoup a lot. With all the famous art hanging on the walls, the restaurants seemed like museums although many of the paintings were reproductions. The paintings were all from the Montparnasse artists. These cafes and bars were the actual hangouts for the Lost Generation writers, artists, etc. in the 1920s – the places Hemingway avoided during the day, so he could get some writing done. I grabbed a menu at one place to check out the prices. Pretty
expensive. I asked Michel if normal French people pay these prices to eat. He said that some do, but that a lot of tourists and French who are fans of that time come here to be in the same places as the famous people of the ‘20s, and to even sit in the exact seat Hemingway did at the Closerie.
When the sketching ended, I showed Michel my work and he said it was very good. I’m sure he was being nice. He added that if he had done what I did his first time fifteen years ago, he would have been – and he motioned upward with both hands. I was satisfied and had fun. That's what mattered to me. Michel is known for being very nice. Maybe I’ll post one of my sketches.
Outside, Michel tore out two earlier sketches from his book and gave them to me as a gift and souvenir, which, translated to English, means memory.
When I said goodbye he asked me if had I enjoyed it. I told him that, for me, it was like Disneyland, especially with the guided art tour of the Montparnasse area that he gave me.
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