Thursday, October 21, 2010

Montparnasse Unveiled

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Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of conducting a private, guided walking tour with Dr. Celeste Hart. She engaged Discover Paris! for several activities and products (as you will read in her testimonial below), one of which was a walk through Montparnasse. We spent two hours wending our way through the streets, conjuring up the spirits of the African-American and Bohemian past that made the district unique and famous.

Monique and Dr. Celeste Hart catching a glimpse of the courtyard
of an old artists’ studio complex from the early 20th century.
© Discover Paris!

Dr. Hart’s testimonial:

I recently engaged Discover Paris! to provide private, guided Afrocentric tours of the Louvre Museum and the Montparnasse district of Paris. I also purchased two of their downloadable walks – one on Richard Wright’s Paris and one on Josephine Baker’s Paris (The Black Pearl Walk).

I enjoyed both private tours immensely. They were filled with information and perspective that I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere, and I was able to engage the guides with questions and discussion that would not have been possible in a group tour. The guide for the Louvre tour provided a lively commentary which drew on her broad understanding of art history to provide fascinating insights into the significance of the inclusion of blacks in works of art spanning 3 centuries.

A special highlight of the Montparnasse tour was a dossier of rare photographs that the guide used to illustrate her discussion. Being able to see photos of the artists and their works as we passed their studios and favorite haunts added greatly to this experience. It was surprising to see how little some of their studios have changed over the years.

The downloadable walks contained remarkable detail about the places that Richard Wright and Josephine Baker frequented during their time in Paris.

Celeste B. Hart, M.D.
Tallahassee, FL

The beauty of Montparnasse does not lie in its architecture – the city razed the vast majority of the district during an urban renewal project in the 60s and 70s to construct mostly character-less buildings. The beauty of Montparnasse lies in its history, much of which is unknown to the average traveler. It teems with stories of artists and writers who came to Paris for a better life, beginning at the turn of the 20th century. African-American artists such as Henry Ossawa Tanner, Hale Woodruff, and Loïs Mailou Jones contribute as much to this history as do European artists such as Picasso, Pascin, and Modigliani.

Beauford Delaney, whose memory we recently honored by inaugurating his new tombstone, called Montparnasse home for the majority of the roughly twenty-six years that he lived in Paris. African-American writers James Baldwin and Chester Himes spent time there as did white American writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Herb Gentry and his wife Honey Johnson operated a business near the Carrefour Vavin that was an art gallery by day and a jazz club by night. And we can’t forget that Josephine Baker performed for the final time of her life in Montparnasse…

Funeral procession for Josephine Baker
in front of the Bobino Theater, Montparnasse

Take Discover Paris!’ Entrée to Black Paris™ tour of Montparnasse and feel the artistic and literary pulse of this quartier beat again! For more information, contact us at info(at)discoverparis(dot)net.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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