Why does the Place du Tertre swarm with mediocre artists clamoring to paint your portrait? As is often the case in Paris, it’s Baron Haussmann’s fault! But for once, the baron did some good along with the damage when, by razing many working-class neighbourhoods in central Paris, he unwittingly encouraged the development of Montmartre (which had been annexed to Paris in 1860).
Around 1880 began the transformation of the Butte (Hill) from a country village into the home of hordes of artists and other marginalized folk who no longer had a place in Haussmann’s grandiose central Paris. At the foot of Montmartre cabarets thrived – up top on the Place du Tertre, an unimaginably (to us) intense period of artistic activity took hold. The Place saw movements from Impressionism to Cubism to Fauvism to Surrealism come and go, right up to the eve of World War I, such greats as Renoir, Picasso, Braque, Dufy, Cézanne, Manet, and Toulouse-Lautrec painted here and, often, kept studios and living quarters in the adjacent streets.
These days, despite the oppressive, constant tourist crush on the square, one can still discover that old-time Paris feeling here – not to mention the fact that some of the current painters aren’t too bad at all!