Tour Paris in the footsteps of Picasso | trip

huhow are you spending a weekend in Paris, a city you have visited many times? You can play the boulevardier, meander between cafes, boutiques and fromageries, or visit a few hitherto unvisited sights. But how about giving your trip a theme? Many do it thoughtlessly: the Jardin du Palais Royal is full of young women taking selfies where Emily ate her lunch in Paris.

Picasso in Paris is a more drastic proposal. The Spanish artist first arrived at the age of 19 in 1900 and kept a studio there until he moved permanently to Villa la Californie on the Riviera in the 1960s. Paris gave him an artistic milieu, recognition, colossal wealth, wives and lovers. Here he painted in 1937, expelled from the fascist state of Franco Guernica. Many of his masterpieces are still scattered throughout the city’s galleries and in the museum dedicated to his work.

If you follow in his footsteps and feel right, you could stay at Le Meurice, the hotel where Picasso celebrated his 1918 wedding to Russian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova in the opulent Salon Pompadour. A dent remains on one of the paintings, reportedly of a flying champagne cork.

Pablo Picasso in 1904

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Le Meurice rightly claims to be a favorite of artists, once they stopped starving in attics. Salvador Dalí spent a month each year for three decades: his presence is evoked in surreal artworks that pop up in the lavish Versailles-inspired decor, including a “frozen mirror,” a sort of chilled whiteboard that encourages you to draw. He may have enjoyed the trompe-l’oeil desserts at the hotel’s restaurant, Le Dalí, which look like a peach or strawberry, until you cut them open to find them full of patissier magic.

Picasso, like many other artists, began his life in Paris, far from the big boulevards. Our hiking guide, the art historian Marta-Volga de Minteguiaga-Guezala, who has studied him for 25 years, took us to Montmartre, which in 1900 was a semi-rural settlement of vineyards and windmills. Set on a steep hill, it provided inexpensive shelter for artists as well as the criminals, prostitutes, circus performers, and needy people who painted them.

I’ve been to Montmartre before to admire the view from the Sacré-Coeur, but dismissed it as a boring tourist trap. It looks different through the eyes of the young Picasso. Marta took us to 49 Rue Gabrielle, where he arrived with his friend Carlos Casagemas to escape the respectable artistic career his father sought for him. Casagemas became obsessed with a model, Germaine Gargallo, and later shot herself. Picasso’s deep grief was the catalyst for his Blue Period – though it didn’t stop him from sleeping with Gargallo.

The restaurant at Le Meurice

The restaurant at Le Meurice

He paints himself as a harlequin with Pichot in Au Lapin Agile, a bohemian cabaret bar (show with drinks £30; au-lapin-agile.com). It is close to Maison Rose, the brasserie that Gargallo owns (main courses from £13; lamaisonrose-montmartre.com). Step inside and you will find that both are largely unchanged. Nearby is Le Moulin de la Galette, topped by huge windmill sails. Now just a creperie, it was once an infamous open-air dance hall, painted first by Toulouse-Lautrec and then by Picasso (two courses £26; moulindelagaletteparis.com).

Making Paris his permanent home, he took a studio in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a squalid, dilapidated former piano factory that had been broken down into squalid workshops rented by artists such as Amedeo Modigliani and frequented by prominent artistic figures such as Henri Matisse and Jean. cocktail. Its name — meaning “wash house boat” — was ironic because it only had one crane. The original building burned down in 1970, and you can’t enter the studios that are there now, but you can see the place where Picasso painted in 1907 The ladies of Avignona painting seen as the birth of modernism, although his friends hated it and Picasso left it coiled in his studio for years unloved.

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Marta, a walking Picasso encyclopedia, did not deny that the great artist was also a monstrous man who said that women were either goddesses or doormats, controlling, unfaithful and, according to one account, a rapist. Of his eight long-term lovers, two had a nervous breakdown and two committed suicide.

Down the hill in the Picasso Museum we also learned about the artist as a father. Created after his death, with photographs and archives donated to the French state by his heirs in lieu of taxes, the gallery contains important works, including the portrait Dora Maar and the pan flute (from £8; museepicassoparis.fr).

The Picasso Museum

But lately it’s been more focused on telling the story of the artist’s colorful pioneering life. A new exhibition is about Maya, his second child, born to his secret mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. Some of Picasso’s tenderest works are of Maya sleeping or playing with her doll. He also created toys for her, including a puppet theater, using utensils he found in his studio. He sent her loving letters in multicolored crayons while entrusting her, and her mother, with hair clippings and nail clippings—the artist superstitiously believed that his enemies could use them to cast spells.

Maya adored her father and helped him as an adult, but when she married and he could no longer control her, Picasso interrupted her for the last 20 years. She heard that he had passed away through the TV news.

You can watch short films by Picasso as we generally see him: bald, brown and with clear eyes, a libidinous Buddha painting in his underpants, clowning in front of the camera and enjoying being the legendary artist. In an immersive gallery you sit surrounded on three sides by the sights and sounds of Villa de Californie, near Cannes, where he lived with his second wife Jacqueline, much painting and sculpting. After his death, about 45,000 unsold works were discovered.

That hot, humid evening we ate at Le Comptoir des Petits Champs, a lovely old-school bistro (starters from £16; lecomptoirdespetitschamps.fr), then walked through the Tuileries to the Seine, where young people sat drinking wine by the banks as mighty party boats drove noisily under the bridges. Paris was so much nicer since I was last there as a tourist, with bike and scooter schedules, fewer cars and lots of pedestrianized streets.

An executive suite at Le Meurice

An executive suite at Le Meurice

The next morning, back to Picasso’s rhythm, we first went to the Center Pompidou, where, as an 18-year-old interrailer, I smoked outside Gauloises and listened to buskers. Now nearly 50 years old, the Pompidou is still a bold building (£12; centrepompidou.fr). Marta told us about a gallery with seven Picassos, including the beautiful 1923 Harlequin: “They’re all so different, you wouldn’t know they’re from the same artist.” Picasso was restless, constantly evolving, impossible to pin down.

From here we walked over the Pont Notre-Dame, past the burnt-out cathedral, into Saint-Germain. In Rues Des Grands Augustins 7 is the studio that Picasso moved to after she broke up with Olga (once she heard about Maya). Here, after the Nazis bombed the Basque city of Guernica, he responded with his mighty 8 x 3.5 m painting, now in Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia. This district, where Picasso stayed during the German occupation, is now full of elegant shops and brasseries.

Restaurant La Masion Rose in Montmartre

Restaurant La Masion Rose in Montmartre

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Our last stop, before heading back to Gare du Nord, was the nearby Square Laurent Prache. Next to the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is Picasso’s monument to his friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. It’s a head of his beloved Dora Maar, a sculpture stolen in 1999 that was found in a ditch in the Val-d’Oise before it was finally returned. Picasso met Dora, herself an artist, across the square, in that quintessential Left Bank meeting place, Les Deux Magots (main feed from £22; lesdeuxmagots.fr), and painted her as The Crying Woman. Now she lives on in bronze, part of Picasso’s complex and lasting mark on Paris.

Janice Turner was a guest at Le Meurice, which has B&B doubles from £1,014. The one-night Montmartre package costs £1,241, which includes a two-hour guided tour by an expert; a Monet pack is also available (dorchestercollection.com)

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