Le Jardins du Musée de Montmartre

By Yvonne Horn
This item appears on page 57 of the February 2014 issue.
Visitors enter the Montmartre Museum in Paris via a rose-draped arbor. Photos by Yvonne Michie Horn

(2 of 2 on Paris) 

Last month, “The Garden Path” took readers to the gardens surrounding the Musée de National du Moyen Âge (National Museum of the Middle Ages, better known as the Cluny). In this issue I introduce you to those tucked around the Montmartre Museum. 

As noted previously, many of Paris’ museums claim gardens, some quite lovely. What sets these two gardens apart is that the inspiration for the creation of each came directly from the museum’s holdings.

A walk through the neighborhood

The basilica Sacré-Cœur, the eye-popping, white wedding cake atop the city’s highest hill, is one of Paris’ most visited attractions, running close behind the Eiffel Tower. 

The majority of the droves of pilgrims and tourists, some 10 million each year, arrive at the foot of the Butte Montmartre via the Anvers Métro, as most guidebooks suggest. From there, they either climb a staircase of 300-plus steps to reach the basilica or, for anyone willing to use an additional Métro ticket, jump on the funicular for a ride up. 

Too bad, for in doing so they miss a stroll through Montmartre, the once-rural village discovered by artists, writers and musicians in the late 19th and early 20th century that leads to the charming museum dedicated to those who found inspiration in Montmartre’s la vie bohème, enhanced by cheap rents. 

While the Montmartre of Lautrec, van Gogh, Degas, Utrillo, Dufy and Renoir has inexorably changed through the years, the neighborhood retains more than a touch of its village atmosphere in its winding streets and little squares. 

Skip the Anvers Métro suggestion and take the Abbesses Métro instead, as I did on my September 2013 visit. From its depths, the deepest of Paris’ Metró stations, a lift delivered me to the leafy Place des Abbesses with its charming “Je T’Aime Wall,” covered with blue tiles inscribed with “I love you” in 250 different languages.

A turn right took me to rue Tholozé and another right to curvy rue Lepic, where Vincent van Gogh lived with his brother Theo at number 54. Ahead, the moulin de la Galette, one of two remaining windmills of those that once punctuated the butte Montmartre. 

The basilica Sacré-Cœur glimpsed through a tree in the Montmartre Museum garden.

Continuing uphill, now on rue Norvins, I stopped to admire the flowery splendor of the small, gated garden belonging to the Cité Internationale des Art. A left turn on rue des Saules, street of the willows, led to rue Cortot — its house-lined narrowness brightened by window boxes draped with geraniums — and my destination at No. 12, the Musée de Montmartre.

Through the artists’ eyes

The museum’s property consists of a complex of Montmartre’s oldest houses, with the museum, itself, located in the 17th-century house where Pierre-Auguste Renoir rented two rooms in 1876, with space in the unused stable thrown in as storage space for his canvases and easels. 

There he painted three of his celebrated works: “Bal du Moulin de la Galette” (“Dance at the Galette Windmill”), “La Balançoire” (“The Swing”) and “La Jardin de la rue Cortot” (“The Garden of the Street Cortot”). 

I stepped through the entry of No. 12 into gardens newly renovated in 2012. Renamed Les Jardins Renoir, three areas have been replanted to recall those enjoyed by Renoir during his stay, with his “La Balançoire” delightfully represented by a swing hanging from the branch of an apple tree. 

An arbor draped in white roses led to the museum’s entrance. Inside, winding stairs led to floors containing a treasure trove of photographs, posters and paintings that recalled the daily life and exuberant cabaret scene of the Impressionists’ Montmartre. 

Windows along the way offered the opportunity to compare the palette of the Montmartre artists with their planted rendition in the garden below — a bed of vibrant red, yellow and blue flowers, reminiscent of van Gogh, with lilac, roses and hydrangeas representing the softer hues of Degas and Utrillo. Right on cue, as if escaped from Steinlen’s poster “Le Cabaret du Chat Noir,” the museum’s resident black cat strolled by the lily pond below. 

A fine view of the Montmartre vineyard appeared, in existence since the Middle Ages and replanted in 1933, festooned with bird netting this day to protect grapes slated for harvest in a few days. 

Tiles on the “Je T’Aime Wall” are inscribed with the phrase “I love you” in 250 languages — Place des Abbesses, Paris.

At the bottom of the vineyard hill, Au Lapin Agile, a cabaret and bar favored by Picasso, Modigliani and Toulouse-Lautrec, operates as such to this day. 

Leaving the museum, I followed quiet rue Cortot into the Place du Tertre’s throngs of souvenir-shopping tourists and easel-toting artists hawking paintings and the opportunity to have your portrait sketched for a price. 

Farther along, the square fronting Sacré-Cœur was filled with the steady stream of visitors making their way up the stairs to the wedding cake on the hill and its panoramic views of the city.

Most, I suspected, would return to the Paris below via the route on which they arrived without an inkling of what they’d missed but steps away. 

Getting situated

The Musée de Montmartre (12-14 rue Cortot, Paris; phone +33 1 49 25 89 35.), in the 18th arrondissement, is open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. The admission fee is 9 (near $12) per adult, 7 per student age 18-25 or 5 per child age 10-17 and free to those under age 10. 

For this visit to Paris, a multigenerational one, I again looked to Chez Vous Paris Apartments (Sausalito, CA; 415/331-2535) for an apartment, as I had on three previous family visits. We found one superbly located in the 6th arrondissement measuring 1,000 square feet and comfortably sleeping six. 

Its $920-per-night tab seemed expensive until we noted the going price for Paris’ hotel rooms, the apartment’s well-equipped spaciousness and the need not to eat all meals out. As a repeat renter, I received a discounted rate.