‘Paris is the dance and I am the dancer’: these words from Josephine Baker, the talented Parisian entertainer who embodied the Jazz Age, reflect the enduring effervescence of the city of light. The breakfast room of our Art Deco hotel had formerly been a night time haunt of Baker and the glamorous presence of her entourage remained enshrined in the original chrome fittings, tiled floor and mirrored walls of what was the once the ‘Mikado’ nightclub. Paris is a city orientated around spectacle and Montmartre continues to typify this experience with the dominant neon windmills of the Moulin Rouge and the inviting signage of the adjacent bars and cafés such as the legendary ‘Chat Noir’ which would have been frequented by the artists and models of the Fin-de-Siècle.

If Paris welcomed us with the flashy attractions of a 19th century capitalism in full throttle then our walk to the Louvre the following day helped us understand why city planning under Haussmann during the Second Empire facilitated the explosion of the Belle Époque which was most clearly articulated in the extravagant gilded Classicism of Charles Garnier’s Opera. As we took a brief pause at the Café de la Paix, following in the footsteps of Manet, Baudelaire and Zola we imagined these top hatted, bearded flaneurs strolling along the brand new boulevards beloved by Napoleon III which facilitated a new modern culture and new style of painting – Impressionism. Leaving behind the Boulevard des Capucines which had witnessed the very first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, we arrived at the Place de la Concorde which features in Degas’ Viscount Lepic and his Daughters. Finally we arrived at the Louvre and, after immersing ourselves in a world of 18th century leisure and fantasy represented by the fetes galantes and pastorals of Watteau and Boucher, we entered the more severe world of Neo-Classicism and its recreation of Ancient Rome. After being tossed around in storms and propelled into the revolutionary turbulence of Romanticism we enjoyed a cruise on the Seine that helpfully took us through the various stages of Paris’ tumultuous past defined by its bridges and monuments.

The next morning we welcomed the tranquillity of the vaulted aisles of Notre Dame, its recent cleaning displaying the medieval portal sculpture to excellent effect. We really appreciated the cerebral calm of the Latin Quarter and were well prepared for the spacious, light-filled Musée d’Orsay, its delicate iron work clearly demonstrating its former role as a railway station emblematic of the modernity which was captured by the Impressionists’ depictions of steam and trains inside. An elegant walk through St Germain took us to the newly refurbished Musée Rodin which also provided excellent views of the golden dome of Les Invalides and of course, the Eiffel Tower. The 18th century Hotel Biron, which can include Jean Cocteau and Isadora Duncan amongst its inhabitants, became Rodin’s permanent home in 1911 and now displays works as significant as The Kiss and The Gates of Hell which marked the transition from Realism to Symbolism and Expressionism.

We left the refinement of St Germain behind and returned to Montmartre via the Batignolles district close to the Gare St Lazare which spawned the earliest phases of Impressionism. Having meditated upon the esoteric mysteries of Gustave Moreau’s Thracian Maid which hangs in the Musée d’Orsay we found ourselves captivated by the house which the artist was determined to transform from a home and studio into a museum even before his death – its peculiarly intense ambiance shedding further light on the esoteric and beguiling nature of his Symbolist works.

Finally, much Friday night fun was to be had on the Champs-Elysées. However, it was important to notice the sculptural decoration of the monumental Arc-de-Triomphe which was intended to generate patriotism in French citizens who, during the July Monarchy, were continually unsettled by the reminder of recent revolutions.

The last morning was spent in Montmartre and we marvelled at the bulbous yet exotically elegant Sacré Coeur which was intended to symbolise peace and reconciliation after the horrific events of the Commune in 1871 and subsequent tragic loss during WWI. We spent our final hours meandering around the deserted cobbled streets that branch out from the Place du Tertre, still home to artists attracted by the bohemian and village-like atmosphere that still remains. It seems fortuitous that the May edition of stylish and forward-looking interior magazine Elle Decoration features a beautifully renovated Montmartre apartment, thus confirming the evidence that the area is experiencing a fascinating programme of rejuvenation whilst remaining true to its artistic and creative character. It was therefore illuminating to stay in an area that once again finds itself at the vanguard of change.

Dr Penelope Wickson