A lasting impression: George Moore in France
The writer left the country he loathed when he was 18 to move to Paris, and became a key figure in the city’s artistic community
Ambassador Rory Montgomery pointed out that many Irish writers have been highly critical of Ireland. “We have to accept this as part of the tapestry of our culture,” he said. Moore, he continued, “seemed to revel in controversy”. He was “a Catholic who became a Protestant but also wrote a novel envisaging a non-divine Christ; an important contributor to the Celtic Revival who then satirised and mocked some of its leading personalities; an exponent of sexual frankness in the prudish worlds of late Victorian England and Ireland; a transmitter of French ideas into the Anglosphere”.
Moore described the importance of the cafe to French civilisation: “In the Middle Ages, young men went in search of the Grail,” he wrote. “Today the cafe is the quest of a young man in search of artistic education.” He found the cafes of the Latin Quarter noisy and out of fashion, so “I immigrated to Montmartre . . . One evening I discovered the ideal cafe on the Place Pigalle. I cannot say now if it were instinct that guided me there, or if perchance I met someone who told me that Manet spent his evenings in the cafe of the Nouvelle Athènes.”
Tours of the Musée d’Orsay
The art historian and museum guide Caroline Rossiter led conference participants on tours of the Musée d’Orsay and through the Impressionist quarter of Paris in the ninth arrondissement. We started on the Place Pigalle, facing the Bio c’Bon organic food shop which has replaced the Nouvelle Athènes, where Degas painted his famous Absinthe Drinker. The slant of the façade is the only vestige of the 19th-century cradle of Impressionism.
A few blocks away, at 61 rue Condorcet, Moore decorated his apartment in the exotic fashion of his French artist friends, with bright red cloth hung from the ceiling like a tent, Turkish divans, lamps and a pet python. Our tour ended at number 28 passage des Panoramas, the former Académie Julian, where Moore studied painting. Today, a plaster statue of a nude man stands in the entry, with a sign advertising “the most ancient Roman sauna in Paris”. George Moore would have surely approved.
At the Nouvelle Athènes, Moore waited for the sound of the glass door grating on the sanded floor as Manet entered. “Two tables in the right hand corner were reserved for Manet and Degas and for their circle of admirers . . . Evening after evening went by and I did not dare to speak to him, nor did he speak to me, until one evening – thrice happy evening! As I sat thinking of him, pretending to be busy correcting proofs, he asked me if the conversation of the cafe did not distract my attention, and I answered: ‘Not at all, I was thinking of your painting’.”
Manet drew and painted Moore several times. “There is no Englishman that occupies the place you do in Paris,” Manet told the Irishman. Through Manet, Moore met Zola and a host of models, courtesans and writers whom he turned into characters in his own fiction.