A Casual Voyeur’s Mini-Tour of Paris Through Art


There are reasons we fall in love with cities. Those who are luck enough to experience them firsthand get wrapped up in the sights, the smells, the sensations, or whatnot. Then there are the others, the voyeurs who haven’t been there yet, who spend hours squinting over the cities’ visual culture. Here’s one for the swooning, the dreaming, the superficially attracted, and the deeply in love. First stop: Paris, France. Let’s hop around some of the city’s definitive and iconic painting and photographs. Let’s happily wallow in that luscious Parisian propaganda that makes us our hearts beat faster, from a distance. Do you want to go to there?

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Le Moulin de la Galette, 1876. Courtesy Musée d’Orsay

Renoir’s bustling cafe in the Montmartre area in northern Paris looks like fun indeed. You can almost feel the warmth of the tree-shattered sun rays dancing over these dressed up ladies and gents, their cheeks pink from flirting and all that close up dancing and furtive snuggling. Oh, my. Olde school romance.

Claude Monet, Boulevard des Capucines, 1873. Courtesy Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

Forget the Rouen Cathedral and the waterlilies. Sometimes you just want to be a blurred, mingling dot of a pedestrian, strolling through 1870s Paris, disappearing in the airily painted swarms, like into a dream.

Vincent van Gogh, Terrace of a Café on Montmartre, 1886. Courtesy Musée d’Orsay

Vincent van Gogh paints another cafe for you. It’s like Renoir, but in the autumn, calmer. Good for dates on the down low. Look at ’em hushing in the corner over there over bottles of wine. Ooh la la.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892. Courtesy Art Institute of Chicago

This slightly ominous Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painting makes you want to chill out at the turn of the century Moulin Rouge bar, all cool and in-crowd-like. So cool. Naughty naughty.

Marc Chagall, Paris Through the Window, 1913

Ah, Paris, Montparnasse, magical. That’s the spot right here, where every local and expat who was anyone would settle — Marc Chagall, Alexander Archipenko, Moïse Kisling, Amedeo Modigliani. Look at that guy. He doesn’t even know which way to turn.

Kertész André, Paris, 1926

Photographer Kertész André spent some time in Paris when it was the hottest. This shot makes us want to go there just so we can get away with wearing that hat.

Ilse Bing, French Cancan, Moulin Rouge, Paris, 1931-1941. Courtesy ArtNet

One of the best nightlife and urban photographers of the century, Ilse Bing got the real Moulin Rouge right here. How about that Last Night’s Party? Saucy.

Man Ray, Surrealist Exhibition, Pierre Colle Gallery, Paris, 1933

Now this is an art opening we’d kill to go to. André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Man Ray, fresh in the catalyst of Surrealism’s birth? All in one place? Oh, sign us up.

Robert Doisneau, Le Baiser de l’Hotel de Ville, Paris, 1950

What? This iconic Robert Doisneau photo is totally posed and not a spontaneously caught moment of rapturous romance, Paris being all rapturous and romantic as it is? No it’s not. No it’s not. It’s real! Na-na-na-na-na-we’re-not-listening-na-na-na.

Elliott Erwitt, Paris, 1989

Fake. Totally, totally fake. Whatever. It’s a classic! The Eiffel Tower. A cutely leaning couple. This one gent leaping from joy over a puddle. The stage is set with all the right clichés. As long as we’re not that sulking wallflower over there in the background on the right. That would be just sad to sulk in Paris, we imagine.