Dubois Beaux Arts, a 157-year-old Parisian art boutique during the Impressionist era, closes its doors – Quartz



If you’ve ever taken, or dreamed of taking, a trip to Paris, chances are the Latin Quarter is on your list of places to visit.

Located between the 5th and 6th boroughs on the left bank, it is famous for its culture, once housed painters and philosophers, and frequented by generations of students attending the Sorbonne. In the 1920s and 1930s Hemingway haunted his bars and bookstores, and in May 1968 it was the site of student protests that rocked the city.

But like bohemian enclaves around the world, this legendary neighborhood is experiencing dramatic gentrification. The latest victim of the trend is a 157-year-old fine art supply store that has been selling colorful paintings to artistic shoppers since 1861.

On January 20, Dubois Beaux Arts, located a few steps from the Panthéon and the emblematic Luxembourg Gardens, will close its doors for good. Marked by its dark green facade and an antique sign in the shape of a painter’s palette, the store was already an anomaly on a road dotted with banks, designer clothing stores and fast food outlets.

This street, Rue Soufflot, was once full of bookstores, but rents have risen in recent years and the increase in tourist traffic has not contributed much to the survival of niche family businesses. Millions of tourists come to Paris every year to enjoy its unique artistic and cultural heritage, trying to follow in the footsteps of famous writers and artists. And yet you’ll see long queues outside the nearby Amorino ice cream chain outlet, but very few out-of-town visitors walk through Dubois – let alone buy anything there.

When I was a journalism student in Paris in 2014, I lived a few streets behind rue Soufflot and passed Dubois every day. For one of my very first television journalism assignments, I had the chance to film the colorful store and interview the wife of its third generation owner, Brigitte Dubois.

Dubois’s story begins in 1861 in a slightly different place. It was then the heyday of painting and the fine arts in Paris, marked by the rise of Impressionism, and the original store, then called Merlin et Denis, produced and sold painting on rue de Médicis. Close. In 1919, the current owner’s grandfather bought the fund which then included the store on rue Soufflot and expanded its production and range of colors. Over the following decades, the company changed its name to Dubois Beaux Arts, and was passed on to his son and then to his grandsons. Still, he continued to sell art supplies to a loyal clientele.

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Inside Dubois, art supplies covered almost every available area.

But in recent years, it has become clear that specialized art supplies alone would not be enough to keep the business alive. Dubois has therefore added some notebooks on the theme of Paris and other souvenirs to meet the thousands of tourists passing by. Ultimately, however, its owners knew that the golden age of small businesses related to art and culture was drawing to a close in Paris. Even beloved bookstores like La Hune, which once had Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as customers, couldn’t last.

Wikimedia Commons-US Library of Congress / Public domain

A photochrome image of rue Soufflot, taken between 1890 and 1900.

Marie Thérèse Hébert & Jean Robert Thibault / Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Rue Soufflot today. On either side of the road, the outlets of the McDonald’s and Quick fast food chains are doing booming business for crowds of students and tourists.

During our conversation, Brigitte Dubois told me about the changing nature of rue Soufflot and the Latin Quarter itself. She also told me that I was recording a place that wouldn’t exist in a few years. “The Latin Quarter is disappearing,” she said then.

Four years later, it looks like it’s already gone.

Image of rue Soufflot today by Marie Thérèse Hébert & Jean Robert Thibault on Flickr, under license CC BY-SA 2.0.


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