Obscure Paris / Paris

Curious Montmartre: Rue André Antoine & The First Free Theatre in Paris

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Last Updated on 24th April 2019 by Sophie Nadeau

A pedestrian-only cobbled lane in the very heart of the 18th arrondissement of the city, Rue André Antoine is quintessential Montmartre at its very best. Home to the location of the first free theatre in Paris, as well as a staircase which may well have inspired Utrillo, here’s a delve into the history of the street.

Who is André Antoine?

Born in the French town of Limoges in 1858, Antoine was an actor, theatre manager, author, and film director. Once a gas utility clerk for the Paris Gas Utility company, he soon realised that his true passion lay in acting when he tried to produce a version of an Emile Zola novel while with an amateur theatre company.

However, the dramatic arts group Antoine was with at the time refused to put on the theatre production, and so Antoine broke away. In 1887, he formed his own group, the Théâtre Libre, a free theatre and the first of its kind in Paris.

Located along Rue André Antoine, the theatre put on some 111 plays or so in the space of just seven years. However, Antoine soon grew to want other things and moved to work with other theatres. By 1914, Antoine had left those theatres too (the Gymnase and the Odeon) and quickly turned to an up and coming technology- that of the cinema.

From that point onwards, Antoine dedicated his time to critiquing films and went on to live to the grand age of 85. Today, Le Théâtre Antoine-Simone Berriau can be found along Boulevard de Strasbourg in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. It’s named for Andreé Antoine himself, the man who changed the theatre in Paris and across the rest of Europe (including London) at the end of the 1800s.

Andre Antoine Theatre Paris poster

Tournée du Théatre Antoine. M. Antoine, 1903

Rue André Antoine

If you’re looking for Paris of the past then you’ll surely find it should you opt to this quiet pedestrianised lane in the space between Pigalle and Montmartre. Home to shuttered windows, vintage street lamps, and the staircases you can only find in this part of Paris, the charm of Rue André Antoine lies in its off the beaten tourist track nature and unique history.

Located in the 18th arrondissement of the city, the road was once home to one of the very first town halls of Montmartre. Although the municipal building was soon moved, it’s worth noting that Mairies, as they’re called, can be found throughout the city. A particular town hall of note is that of the 10e arrondissement.

Once known as the Rue de Elysée des Beaux-Arts, Rue Andre Antoine can be found in the intersections of Rue des Abbesses, Rue Piemontesi, Boulevard de Clichy (i.e. the heart of Pigalle), and Rue Veron. Rather than being straight in its formation, the road branches off several times, cutting through several different roads and making a ‘y’ shape.

Curious Montmartre: Rue André Antoine, 18th arrondissement, Montmartre, Paris, France

Rue Andre Antoine in more recent times

Up until the 1930s, the road was known as the Passage de Elysée des Beaux-Arts, until its name change to Rue de Elysée des Beaux-Arts. By 1951, the lane’s name was changed yet again, this time to reflect the father of the ‘mise en scene’ in France, and indeed across Europe, André Antoine.

Head to the spot where No. 37 now stands and you’ll find a small plaque dedicated to the space where the first free theatre in Paris was held. Nearby, the back of the brick church of Saint-Jean de Montmartre can be found. Elsewhere on the street, another building of note is that of No. 39. after all, it was here where Seurat came to paint in 1890. Just two decades later, Modigliani too, came to stay.

 A Sunday on La Grande Jatte painting

 A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, one of Georges Seurat’s most famous paintings

About Author

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, Paris, pizza, and history, though not necessarily in that order. A fan of all things France related, she runs when she's not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming her weight in sweet food. Currently based in Paris after studies in London, she's spent most of her life living in the beautiful Devonian countryside in South West England!

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