The expression “Bateau-Lavoir” refers to the building’s resemblance to the laundry boats which used to float on the Seine!
Located on the charming Place Emile Goudeau, the wooden building thus named by humour gave at ground level onto the Place and emerges three floors lower down in the rue Garreau. This wooden structure used to be a piano factory; with just one tap for water, poorly heated and made up of cobbled together studios, it acted as a melting pot for Modern Art in the beginning of the 20th century and was later renamed the “Central Laboratory of painting” by Max Jacob.
The “Bande d’énergumènes” (“Band of Maniacs”) which occupied this block of studios was very often a mix of different nationalities. All in their twenties and penniless, the occupants were, however, going to challenge the standards of classical painting which had already been questionned by the impressionists years earlier. Among the many writers and artists to lodge there were Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Mac Orlan, Modigliani, Van Dongen and Juan Gris. On his arrival at the Bateau Lavoir, Pablo Picasso revolutionized painting with the famous cubist work he painted in 1907: “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”.
Though the place seemed miserable – glacial in winter and scorching hot during summer, Picasso once wrote: “I know we will make it through the Bateau Lavoir. There we were truly happy, we were considered as painters and not as curious animals”.
André Malraux listed it in 1969, but the Bateau-Lavoir was destroyed by fire in 1970. Rebuilt in concrete in 1978, it was reorganized into 25 studios which were then allocated to young artists; nowadays they don’t lodge there, just work and create during the day.