Our latest insider we’re profiling for the Paris edition of our Local Knowledge series is Parisian artist and art historian Marie Theres from Montmartre. It’s a beautiful spring evening when Marie Theres Berger takes us to her small studio, hidden, with a dozen other artists’ ateliers, in a dimly lit lane behind big wooden doors in the heart of Montmartre. The vibrant colours of her canvases take us back outside into the sunshine and into a lovely Paris garden.
A graduate of the Ecole Du Louvre, Paris, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia in the USA, Marie Theres has painted since she was a child, and has exhibited everywhere from New York to Berlin.
When Marie Theres is not working from her house in the south of France, she’s busy here in her little studio where she walks every day from the home she shares with her opera director-husband on the other side of Sacre Coeur. As she loves to meet people from around the world, she also leads walking tours for Context to Paris’ art museums and around her home of Montmartre.
“I love Montmartre,” she tells us later over dinner at her home. “It’s a microcosm of Paris. It’s multicultural. It has nightlife and day-life. There are prostitutes, there are bobos, and there are artists… there is the tourist part, but there’s also the everyday life, which is very authentic.”
“The Montmartrois (the people of Montmartre) are also special,” she admits. “They don’t feel like Parisians. There is a distance between them and Parisians. They have always felt different. In fact, it’s been a tradition here to feel different, to feel unique, to feel apart from Paris in a way. The people are what makes Montmartre really special.”
Q. So, what do you most love about your work?
A. The colours. I’m a colourist so it’s pretty much all about the colours. I love the way colour interacts and sings together.
Q. Why should people come to Paris?
A. There’s so much to do and see in Paris, from Notre Dame to the Louvre, and all the museums, but after that, visitors should go to Montmartre to see the real Paris. Montmartre is not just Place de Tertre (the square where artists sketch your portrait for a price), it’s the whole area, like Rue des Abbesses, Rue Caulaincourt, and Rue de Clignancourt, where you won’t find any tourists at all.
Q. 3 words to describe Paris?
A. Beautiful, cultured, and accessible.
Q. 3 ways to describe Parisians?
A. Unexpectedly nice, increasingly dynamic, and more and more open.
Q. Top 3 recommendations for visitors?
A. Go to the Musée de Cluny to see the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry; visit the Nissim de Camondo decorative arts museum in the 17th arrondissement; and enjoy the views of Paris from the steps of Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.
Q. Best souvenir from Paris?
A. Some cooking utensils from BHV (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville) department store or E Dehillerin.
Q. Must-do eating experiences?
A. Dine at a big traditional Parisian brasserie such as Le Grand Colbert, Brasserie Flo, or Terminus Nord. I love the brasseries, because you know what you’re going to get – the service and food are consistent – and the surroundings are just so beautiful.
Q. An essential thing to know before coming to Paris?
A. You don’t need to order French onion soup when you come here!
Q. Most important phrase to learn in French?
A. Bonjour, Madame. Bonjour, Monsieur. If you add ‘Madame’ or ‘Monsieur’ it makes a big difference in Paris. If you use a few polite terms when you greet people, you will be treated very differently and with greater respect.
Q. Any other advice?
A. Walk! Walk in Paris. The metro is wonderful if you need to go from A to B, but it’s better to walk. Walk and you will really discover the many different sides of Paris, when you’re on your way to where you want to go. Once you’ve explored Montmartre, visit arrondisements like the 5th and the 20th, and spend some time in Paris’ beautiful parks and gardens.