Tag Archives: paris

Kate’s Paris: Chemin du Montparnasse

During my research trip to Paris, I stumbled on Chemin du Montparnasse while looking for 21 avenue du Maine. I quickly realised that they were one and the same. The name is a modern one that Kathleen O’Connor would not have recognised, as this narrow little lane lined with artists’ studios was referred to in her time only by its street address. 

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An arts centre, Villa Vassilieff, today occupies the site of the studio of a former inhabitant of the laneway, the Russian artist Marie Vassilieff. Vassilieff ran an academy from her upstairs studio, and Kate occasionally attended her evening sketch classes with British artist Nina Hamnett. 

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It was a Sunday when I walked through Chemin du Montparnasse, peering into atelier windows and gazing up, imagining Kate at work with her charcoal and sketchbook. Although it was quiet, deserted, I fancied I could hear laughter and the clomp-clomp of feet trudging upstairs to class, the creak of easels, the patient, weary sighs of artists’ models holding a pose.

It was a delight to find this remnant of Kate’s Paris in today’s Montparnasse.

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Kate’s Paris: Luxembourg Gardens

I love the Luxembourg Gardens, the centrepiece of Paris’s 6th arrondissement. Kathleen O’Connor’s earliest works in Paris were painted here, en plein air—oil sketches of individual figures and groups captured opportunistically. Women in long Edwardian dresses and elaborate hats, nursemaids with infants in prams, family picnics, couples conversing, women knitting, sewing, sketching…

On my last visit, I sat near the lake, the Grand Bassin, watching walkers and runners, men and women pushing strollers, people reading newspapers or scrolling on their phones, groups of friends chatting. My sister was beside me with sketchbook and pencil, absorbed, while I watched the life of the gardens through the lens of my camera.

Just as they had been in Kate’s Paris, the gardens were still a place for quiet reflection, leisurely pursuits, human connection. And the artist’s eye.

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Kate’s Paris: cafés of Montparnasse

Montparnasse Bienvenüe is one of the busiest métro stations in Paris, and, being a transfer station for several lines, one of the largest. I discovered it’s also an easy place in which to get lost. I seemed to be walking for miles through tunnels and along travelators before finding my way out!

Among the many things to see in Montparnasse are the cafés along boulevard Montparnasse and its arteries. For Kathleen O’Connor and thousands of other artists, these were part of a way of life in the years before the First World War and through the 1920s. They would meet there at the end of the day for replenishment of one form or another—hearty food or a bowl of coffee, information or gossip, serious or not so serious discussion about art and life.

Kate revelled in

the café life, which to me is almost the most fascinating of all there is to see. Cafés dancing with lights, glasses glittering with reflections, and with it all the music of many voices, the babble of many tongues.

As I stood on the corner of boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail, with the distinctive red facade of La Rotonde in front of me, Le Dôme on the other side and La Coupole a few paces from that, it occurred to me that these iconic landmarks are as instantly recognisable as the Eiffel Tower.

Just as they had been the centre of life for foreign artists in Kate’s Paris, today they are a beacon for tourists. I watched them coming and going, listened to ‘the babble of many tongues’.

But there was not a paint-stained smock among them.

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Kate’s Paris: Galeries Lafayette

Galeries Lafayette is a spectacular emporium in the heart of Paris’s Opéra district—palatial architecture that whispers of a bygone age, moderating the din of twenty-first century retail. It was October when I was there, on the trail of Kathleen O’Connor, but the store was already in the process of being decorated for Christmas, with a white tree rising through the central atrium.

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Kate’s connection with Galeries Lafayette was in the 1920s, when she diversified into the decorative arts. She produced designs for fabric, wallpaper and soft furnishings in a modernist style influenced by Art Deco—wild colours and avant-garde creations that suited Jazz Age Paris but were considered ‘startling’ and ‘bizarre’ in Australia.

Her clients included La Maîtrise, the design workshop of Galeries Lafayette headed by renowned designer Maurice Dufrêne.

You can see an example of Kate’s handpainted fabric on the National Gallery of Australia site here. I would not usually describe myself as a covetous person when it comes to clothes, but oh, how I covet that dress!

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Kate’s Paris: rue de la Grande Chaumière

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.

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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.

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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.

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Happy Bastille Day…

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Taken not on Bastille Day but on a snowy January day in one of the coldest Paris winters of recent times.

 

 

 

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A few Paris angles…

…because it’s Friday, and why not?

Have a lovely weekend 🙂

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