Luxembourg Gardens

The Luxembourg Gardens are filled with history, beautiful fountains and Parisians and tourists alike. During the interwar period, the gardens were a source of inspiration and a space for leisure for all socioeconomic classes. Today, the gardens allow for the same free space in the middle of Paris.

The Luxembourg Gardens are a defining aspect of the Montparnasse neighborhood, as a popular site for relaxation and recreation in the middle of a bustling city. Created in 1611, Catherine de’ Medici built the Luxembourg palace and gardens after the death of her husband, King Henry IV. The entire site was modeled off of Florence architecture and gardens to imitate her native home. After her death, the gardens were neglected by the Monarchy until Napoleon III reconstructed it and made it what it is today (Paris Office of Tourism).

During the 1930’s, the gardens were a popular spot and inspiration for many artists and writers. Since the garden was open to the public, it was an extremely accessible spot for the poor and rich artists alike. Gertrude Stein was known for often walking her dogs through the gardens, and it was a common spot for Hemmingway and his family to be seen in as well. Hemmingway often spoke of walking through the Luxembourg Gardens in his famous memoir, A Moveable Feast (Hemmingway). It was another area in the neighborhood that allowed artists and thinkers to be together to discuss and share ideas in a place of leisure. Many artists and photographers used Luxembourg as their inspiration, such as Atget who is well known for his photography of the statues and fountains that cover the grounds. Atget was able to capture the beauty of the park by focusing on the small details such as the vases and statues. Although he normally did not include any people in his photos, Luxembourg Gardens was an exception. He often captured people at leisure or children playing in the park, just like they do today (Wikimedia Commons). The gardens allowed for natural inspiration and scenes in an otherwise urban setting, giving inspiration for many natural works from the artists of the time. Until the 1930’s, the lands also housed a marionette theater, an outdoor stage for music and a small gallery for contemporary art and sculptures. All of these contributed to promoting the artists of the time, and allowed for their works to be viewed by members of all classes.

The neighborhood of Montparnasse has undergone tremendous gentrification since the inter-war period, and has gone from a very cheap area to extremely high end. The cafés such as La Rotonde and Le Dôme that used to take paintings in exchange for coffee, now charge upwards of 25 euros for a meal. In the 1920’s and 30’s, artists moved to this area due to its cheap housing, but now apartments are only available to the extremely wealthy, and the whole neighborhood has benefitted from the fame of the Lost Generation. Although Montparnasse has gone through these changes since the inter-war period, the Luxembourg gardens have not. They have managed to keep the same atmosphere as was described by the ex-patriots. It is still an open, free space that is utilized for relaxation and leisure. In modern times, people from a large range of socio-economic classes, ages and ethnicities all go to the gardens still. There are children playing with boats in the ponds, all ages picnicking, and artists and photographers still finding inspiration there. The wide diversity of languages that can be heard tell that the gardens are not only a tourist place, but a favorite of locals as well. With so much of the atmosphere of Montparnasse changed since the Lost Generation was there, it was nice to see that the Luxembourg Gardens have maintained the same level of openness and leisure.