Rue de la Grande Chaumière is a quiet little street that runs between boulevard Montparnasse and rue Notre Dame des Champs in Paris’s 6th arrondissement. Buildings on both sides of the street are mostly unremarkable—four, five or six storeys, lots of shuttered windows, a few planter boxes. Fairly plain, for Paris.
I was interested in numbers 9 and 16: artist Kathleen O’Connor lived at 9 before the First World War, and at 16 after her wartime return to Paris from London.
At number 16, there were three street-level doors—a charming little cordonnerie (shoe repair shop), a wide green door to the apartments upstairs, a restaurant beside that—with line of motorcycles parked in front of them.
I looked up at the three levels of shuttered windows above. Kate had probably lived in a single studio room on the top floor—the cheapest. No running water, no heating, a gas ring if she was lucky, a communal toilet. There was a light on in one of those windows now, a red towel hanging over the wrought-iron window box. How many rooms of the kind Kate lived in had been joined to form a modern apartment?
At number 9, I found a little boutique art hotel, the Hotel à la Villa des Artistes. It looked quite modern but claims to have had Beckett, Fitzgerald, Foujita and Modigliani among its former guests. And this was Kate’s address, too, in mid-1913.
I was thrilled to see, opposite at number 14, that the Académie de la Grande Chaumière was still there, and still a working academy. Kate sometimes attended its evening sketch classes, and Lucien Simon and Claudio Castelucho were among her tutors.
In 1913 she wrote from her room across the road:
In the midst of the Quarter, I am overlooking the school of Carlrossi [Colarossi, number 10] and the Grande Chaumière, and always there are passers-by. At the hours of the school one sees students hurrying in, armed with canvases, paint-boxes, etc., all sorts and constitutions of students of every nation.
As I watched, imagining Kate’s Paris, a van pulled up outside and began unloading boxes of—well, I couldn’t see of what. But they had to be watercolours, pastels, tubes of oil paints, brushes…Just had to be.
Kathleen O’Connor of Paris coming soon from Fremantle Press