Photography | William Meppem
I stumbled upon Julien Tanguy in my readings and was intrigued by this shop-owning, art-loving man of Paris. Known as ‘Père Tanguy’ he owned a shop on Rue de Seine, Saint Germain in the 1800s. As a purveyor of artists’ materials he supplied the likes of Cezanne, Gauguin, Seurat & Van Gogh, the latter who painted his portrait in 1887. I can imagine his shop filled with the scent of turpentine, timber, earth, dust and apothecary jars full of exotic pigment colours, sea shells and cochineal, gold leaf, shellac, brushes, gum arabic, & bottles of linseed oil. He ran a small gallery on the side and often traded paintings for pigments which jam-packed his walls alongside his collection of ukiyo-e Japanese prints, a salon of it’s day - a place of conversation & ideas over a couple of glasses of absinthe.
The romance of a pied-à-terre, or perhaps just an intimate garret space, occupied by a painter or sculptress never fails to capture the imagination. A space that is reached by many stairs, and each floor the staircase gets smaller and steeper that finally abruptly ends with a room. One that has humble finishes of timber floors and plaster walls with windows that open wide to the roof-top views across the zinc lined skyline of Paris.
A room that morphs from live/work effortlessly with the simple hanging of fabric or a light-weight wall to draw a faint line of distinction between the two. Stacks of canvases, a paint splattered plinth that spins, a cupboard spilling with natura morta props and shapes, a large wicker basket with textiles and clothing to create a set for a muse at a whim & a sofa that acts both as lounge and bed, pushed to one side to fall into once inspiration or tiredness has overcome the artist. A loose linen smock hangs on the back of the door and the sound of cooing pigeons and distant city noises are overlaid with the smell of dust, clay & turpentine.
The artist’s pied-à-terre continues to capture the imagination and the romance of these environments where the messy, explorative and creative magic happens. They are not just for 19th century French painters, and can be created for today’s world, a place to call one's own.