If you have always wanted to visit the Grenier des Grands-Augustins, go soon. It is the attic floor of the Hôtel de Savoie (7, rue des Grands-Augustins) in the VIe arrondissment of Paris, a space that figures in the Balzac short story Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu (in English, The Unknown Masterpiece), was the residence of actor and director Jean-Louis Barrault, and is where Picasso painted Guernica in 1937. One can visit the place now, but Morgane Giuliani reports that that situation may come to an end by next week, in an article (Le «Grenier de Picasso» menacé de fermer ses portes, June 12) for Le Figaro (my translation):
The place is maintained and run since 2002 by the Comité National pour l'Éducation Artistique (CNEA), a non-profit association that also uses office space there. The space is loaned to the group by kind agreement of the Chambre des huissiers de justice de Paris, which owns the building. It is an alliance that is coming apart at the seams, since the owner has decided to find a buyer for the building, requiring renovation work estimated at 5 million euros -- according to the CNEA. The owner promptly issued an eviction order against the three tenants, near the end of their lease, but the CNEA refused to obey it. It will be for a court to decide, during a public hearing scheduled for June 19.The Balzac story is about the mystery of capturing a person perfectly in a portrait, told through the eyes of the young Nicolas Poussin, who visits the studio of another painter in the company of an elder master painter. Picasso became infatuated with the story after being asked to make illustrations for the story, so much so that he eventually moved into the studio where the narrative occurred, living there when he painted Guernica and staying there through World War II and into the 50s. It is the locale featured in the famous photograph of Picasso's studio by Brassaï (shown above). The street is named for the Augustinian monastery that once stood where the street is now, which plays into my summer project (more about that later). Some vestiges of the monks' refectory can still be seen at no. 3. The fact that Picasso chose the studio based on a short story set in that building, even though the story is set at a time when the building did not even exist, is wonderful: the levels of artistic fantasy and meaning are endless.
Alain Casabona, General Delegate of the CNEA, calls it an "unjust and brutal" decision: "It is distressing considering the image of the place, which is a true treasure to preserve, and we would hope that the owner is conscious of the work that we have accomplished here." The concern is great as to the future of the studio: "If we are thrown out, this space could become anything," he says angrily.