La Ruche is an amazing hidden treasure, not only beautiful but steeped in incredible history.
It literally translates as ‘the beehive’, and is a group of artists’ studios in the 15th arrondissement – in fact it is one of the most important artistic centres of the 20th century – set in a beautiful semi-wild garden and locked behind huge wrought iron gates. It was called as such first because of its octagonal shape (like a large beehive) with the studios set into it like a honeycomb, and also to evoke the feverish work of the artists who lived and worked there.
In 1900 Alfred Boucher, a wealthy artist from a humble background, bought 5000m2 of land in the Vaugirard area in the south of the city, an unfashionable and cheap part of town in those days. At the end of the Universal Exhibition of 1900, he also bought the Wines of Bordeaux Pavilion from the exhibition, a temporary building with a metallic structure designed by Gustave Eiffel, and had it rebuilt on this land. The gates were from the Women’s Pavilion and the two caryatides flanking the main doors from the Indonesian Pavilion. His aim was to set up a group of artists’ studios, providing living, working and exhibition space to artists in need of help and patronage, as he had once been.
The studios were small, with no electricity and one tap shared between all of them, but rents were low, or even non-existant for the most impoverished. Artists came from all over Europe, staying anything from a few months to a lifetime (the oldest resident today is apparently over 90 and was born there to artist parents) and included Chagall, Soutine, Zadkine, Modigliani, Apollinaire, Brancusi, Blaise Cendrars and Diego Rivera, amongst many others.
La Ruche fell into decline during WWII and was almost demolished in the late 1960s, but it was saved by another group of artists in the early 70s and later renovated by the Seydoux Foundation (who apparently had initially planned to finance the renovations of the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre, after it completely burned down they decided to renovate and restore La Ruche in it’s place).
Today is is home to 70 artists who either live or work there, or both, 23 of them in the central ‘beehive’ building. The studios are slightly larger than they were originally, and the surrounding buildings also form part of the community, all set in idyllic gardens. It’s not open to the public, I went as part of a guided visit which I booked in advance, but they do run occasionally and if you speak French it’s really worth doing. It’s a magical place, both for its charm and beauty, its incredible history and that of the artists who have passed through its doors, and for the continuing creative activity today.
- La Ruche, 2 Passage de Dantzig, 75015 Paris. metro: Convention
Website (in French)