At the turn of the 20th century, artists were flocking in droves to Montmartre, the bohemian district of Paris where the rents were cheap, the wine was overflowing and the paintbrushes never dried. Some gave up their countries to reach this artistic Mecca, including Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Piet Mondrian.
Montmartre, with its iconic Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart) church, was not only the place where ideas and creativity were flourishing, where the avant-garde had its main residence, but it was also a constant source of inspiration for hungry artists, with its architecture, liveliness, busy nightlife and the very colorful and eccentric people it was collecting. The neighborhood had stories to tell and the painters were eager to give them voice.
As the son of the French painter Suzanne Valadon, Maurice Utrillo had lived in Montmartre for much of his life, depicting his surroundings frequently in his solitary cityscapes. By 1937, Utrillo had moved to the outskirts of Paris and his ill mental health and alcoholism were preventing him from painting outdoors or getting around that much. Nevertheless, he continued doing his urban landscapes, drawing inspiration from postcards and his lifetime of memories of the place he called home.
It is thus believed that Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, and the rue Saint-Rustique was painted from memory. This quiet winter scene with the narrow street of Saint-Rustique and the towering Sacré-Coeur in the background combines the geometry of the buildings with loose, free brushstrokes. The lack of people – there are only two distant figures – and the bright whiteness of the landscape invite you for a solitary, meditative stroll through a snowy Montmartre. Who knows, you might run into someone you know…