We’ve talked about places where artists gathered to party and discuss art. We’ve even talked about their favorite place to get supplies. But what about their favorite place to paint? Well, I’ve mentioned how freeing it was to be able to finally buy paint in tubes. Many times artists would escape into the countryside to paint idyllic scenes. Other times they would simply set up a canvas on a Montmartre street and capture the daily lives of various residents. And, of course, many are familiar with the paintings and posters done featuring the Moulin Rouge dancehall girls by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (see above), not to mention the fabulous painting of Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (see below).
But there was one location that became the most popular place for artists to gather and paint. It was a small, unassuming public square in Montmartre named Place du Tertre. Here they could gather and capture the feel of the village while at the same time work off of each other’s energy and excitement. It was a great place to share new ideas and experiment.
I mentioned previously how Impressionists could capture the different times of day. Being outside meant they could capture the glow of sunrise or sunset; show the glare of a full sun beating down on a building, or the shadows as they moved across a street during different times of day. Color changes depended on not only time of day but weather. These painters had always understood that, but now it was much easier to capture because they painted those changes while actually witnessing them. That’s why so many quit worrying about showing a scene in three dimensions. Instead they wanted to show those shadows and changes in color. Mood became more important than technicality of realism.
Now, with this new method of painting outside a new problem arose. In order to catch the changes of day these artists had to paint quickly. How does one paint quickly when oils take a lot of time to dry between layers? Never being the type to give up, they adapted and changed the way they handled paint. They simply began to paint alla prima (wet on wet) most of the time. This technique wasn’t new in oil. However, using it the majority of the time certainly was something artists in the past hadn’t done. Applying wet paint over wet paint not only allowed these artists to work faster, it demanded they do so. It was essential to get the layers on before the first layer dried.
Place du Tertre in the old days
Times change. I’m well aware of it. And, to be fair, I suppose the city had to start renting space or it would be a constant struggle to get one’s easel up before another tried to encroach on your small space. Still, it would be nice if these artists of today used some creativity to find other places to make their own history. After all, those bohemians were brave enough to start their own style and their own locales to create history. It would be difficult to ever top what these nineteenth century artists did, but it’s not so much a competition as a never-ending saga to find the next, new way to show color, texture and shape; to show mood, light, and time. At least, it should be.