• LOCATION 9 | Highlights Around Parc Montsouris: From Hidden Water to Secret Villages

    Square de Montsouris

    Square de Montsouris on Paris audio tour Highlights Around Parc Montsouris: From Hidden Water to Secret Villages

    Stop here before the entrance of Square Montsouris for a moment please.

    The architect of this white house at the corner is none other than Le Corbusier, and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. You may think that the very square nature of the whole thing, big smooth white walls, the facade-wide industrial windows etc are just standard features of recent buildings. But this house actually dates from 1922!

    This was Le Corbusier’s first building in Paris, and he could only get away with such crazy ideas at the time because he designed it for his friend and purist painter Amédée Ozenfant. Le Corbusier was a Swiss architect, who became French in the 1930s and, let’s be honest, held some pretty fascist views. He not only expressed fascist ideas in his private correspondence but also participated in a fascist journal and tried to get buildings commissioned by the Vichy government who collaborated with the Nazi invaders during WWII. That didn’t work out, so he left Vichy, and after the war, he made sure to downplay that part of his history.

    Let's stop talking about this sad character and get ready to enjoy the rest of Square Montsouris, dedicated not to order, but to individuality!

    This type of street is very unusual in Paris, and it has attracted many famous people over the years - there's even a former presidential couple living here.

    In spite of the “private way” sign, you are allowed to walk down the street, but watch out for cars and uneven cobblestones. And remember, unlike the Le Corbusier building, which is now a business, there are people living in the other houses, so please try to respect their privacy as you admire the facades. Ready? Let's enter Square Montsouris!

    Individuality starts with mixing architectural styles. By the end, you'll see busy art nouveau mosaics, streamlined art déco angles, and even to your left, at number 40, a half-timbered house with cuckoo clocks on the façade. Take your time to look up at the various houses, the flowers, the vines… I just love this place.

    This street mixed not only architectural styles but also social classes: the many red brick houses were built at about the same time at the Ozenfant house, but were affordable homes for low-income workers. The neighborhood had been poor for centuries, so land was cheap, which also attracted painters and sculptors who needed a house with a large workshop but could not -yet- afford that in the more central areas of Paris. This street was also close enough to the Montparnasse cafés, brasseries and ballrooms where all the artists, writers and singers congregated in the 1920s. Hence the mix of workers and up-and-coming artists.

    Nowadays Paris still has rules that require each district to include social housing, but the houses you see right now are now in private hands.

    The Montparnasse artistic milieu was also about mixing nationalities. Because of US soft power, people always talk about Americans and the Lost Generation, but my favourite resident of Square Montsouris is the Japanese painter Foujita. He was extremely talented, and he also threw amazing parties here. Can you hear the music coming from this house at number 3?

    He was born Tsuguharu Foujita, studied western painting in Tokyo and first arrived in Paris in 1913, where he met everyone in Montparnasse, from Picasso to Modigliani, and he loved it! He was all for revolutionizing the boring classical art of the time, and developed his own unique style, for example mixing Japanese ink brush strokes, or ivory background techniques, with more western styles and subjects like full frontal nudes.

    By the late 1920s, his paintings sold well, plus he was really good at self-marketing, making his own brightly colored clothes, open to PR stunts... so he could afford the white house at number 3, to your right, with the sharp angles and red brick towards the top. We'll stop there.

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Highlights Around Parc Montsouris: From Hidden Water to Secret Villages