So we did it! We got our portrait done in Montmartre. It was part of our exploration of the 18th arrondissement for the Paris Countdown.
Of course, visiting the artists’ square at Place du Tertre is one of the most touristy things you can do in Paris, but we’re here to go all in after all, and we had never done it before.
But first: What is Place du Tertre?
Place du Tertre is the main artists’ square in Paris, a stone’s throw from the Sacré Coeur and at the very top of the hill. It dates back to 1635 when it was the central square for the village of Montmartre, and its storied history includes the glory days of Paris creativity, with artists like Pablo Picasso living and working just around the corner.
Nowadays it’s a bustling hive of tourists and painters, with classic Parisian bistros crowded around the edges.
How to choose an artist?
If you’re at the Place du Tertre on a busy day, you might find it hard to catch an artist. We certainly struggled, there were queues leading up to some of them. But we spotted one man walking around with a big clipboard and we approached him.
In this case, we didn’t ask to see his work, we just asked for a portrait. The price point seems like a game, he stated that for two people it would be €120 total. I said I had €50 in my pocket and he said that would do. I’d advise you check out the artist’s work before agreeing to get your picture done, just in case, and you’ll almost certainly need to pay in cash 😉
A chat with our artist, Basil
Our artist was a Polish man called Basil and he was lovely. You can “meet” him at 10:30 minute mark of this week’s podcast episode. And it was clear he enjoyed his job.
“I have many friends here, I know everybody and everybody knows me, we are like a family,” Basil said on the podcast (I interviewed him as he was sketching me).
“I love to speak with the people I draw, you can have this natural contact with someone who you might not have normally spoken to – I like this style of life.”
When I asked him what makes a good subject for a painting, he was quick to say that I was “no James Bond” but that he could find pleasure in drawing me.
“When painting I look for interesting physical features. Some faces can be interesting to work with and of course when I have good contact with the subject that is a major plus, it’s much better when you have a good person who is smiling and they are natural.”
He added that the magic of Montmartre was that it allowed visitors to forget about their typical daily lives and the problems they might usually have to conquer.
“Here it is very open, very positive… You come here, you drink one glass of wine and you can have a good time. It’s like a small village.”
What’s the story with the artists?
The artists apply for a one square metre spot through the town hall of Paris, and there’s said to be a 10 year waiting list. Authorised Place du Tertre artists can only paint Paris scenes, portraits or caricatures of people in the square.
The final result
I’m sure you’re itching to see how Basil captured us. It was a surprise to both of us that he was a cubist caricaturist, but it was cool to see ourselves in a different light. Here’s the finished result.
When to visit Place du Tertre
If you want to catch the artists, you’ll have to be there from about 10am until nightfall. If you’re there for a meal or a drink, the restaurants are open well into the night. The square is open throughout all the seasons, and even if it’s raining the painters often bring their own large umbrellas to protect their work (or their customers!).
Prices range from 25€ – 120€ (apparently), make sure you set your price beforehand and have enough cash to pay.
Getting to Place du Tertre
Essentially, just keep going up! The address is Place du Tertre, 75018. Here’s how to get here:
Metro: Line 12: Abbesses/Lamarck – Caulaincourt. Line 6: Anvers.
Bus: 30, 54
Montmartre funicular to the upper station.
Or of course, you can walk to the top of the hill, it’s the best way to experience Montmartre. As for driving, you’d be incredibly lucky to find a car park at the top but it has been known to happen. Good luck!
The Earful Tower podcast episode
In the podcast episode below, you can hear Basil talking about Montmartre and his process from the 10:30 minute mark. The rest of the episode is us talking about what we found in Montmartre during our 24-hour visit.
Tour the 18th arrondissement in our Youtube video
Our YouTube video features Basil, Place du Tertre, and Montmartre. You can see it below, and you can subscribe to the channel in one click via this link.
And that’s it! A big thanks to Augusta Sagnelli for the photos, Charlotte Pleasants for the additional reporting, and to the Patreon members who make all this possible. Join them here.
More tips for the 18th district’s best restaurants, cafes, and attractions here. Otherwise, be sure to subscribe for our trips to all the other Paris districts. You can see what we found in the 19th here.