Keep smiling: Marie Laurencin, Apollinaire and the Mona Lisa

‘Pour endormir l’Enfant’ by Marguerite Canal & Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, published by Laboratoires de La Passiflorine (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Marie Laurencin.

This gentle cover of two dreamy young girls in typical pastel colouring and soft shading is the only one in our collection illustrated by Marie Laurencin (1883-1956). She was a painter and got acquainted with the artists who took up residence in the Bateau-Lavoir, amongst them Max Jacob, Picasso and Bracque.

Marie Laurencin, ca 1912. Source: Wikipedia

In 1907 Picasso introduced Marie Laurencin to his friend the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and they became romantically involved. Their passionate affair was burdened by Apollinaire’s alcohol abuse, his jealousy and violence. It lasted until 1912 and had already started to crumble the year before when Apollinaire was wrongly suspected of having had a hand in the theft of the Mona Lisa.

Groupe d’artistes’ oil painting by Marie Laurencin (1908) – From left: Pablo Picasso, Marie Laurencin herself, Apollinaire and Fernande Olivier (Picasso’s lover). Source: Trivium Art History.

Just like Marie Laurencin, Apollinaire had been raised by a single mother. His father disappeared very early on and his mother travelled with her children from hotel to hotel, frequenting the European casinos. The cosmopolitan Apollinaire spoke five languages and was exceptionally cultivated. The poet scraped a living as a clerk in different places. While working for an investor’s chronicle Guide du Rentier he befriended Honoré-Joseph Géry Pieret a scoundrel born in Belgium who was sacked from the chronicle for attempted blackmail and would at some time work as Apollinaire’s personal secretary. In 1907 Géry Pieret stole two prehistoric Iberian sculptures from the Louvre and sold them to Picasso.

Ancient Iberian bust, stolen from the Louvre (3rd century BC). Now in the French Musée d’Archéologie nationale. Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Archéologie nationale).

Making light of it Géry Pieret allegedly once said to Marie Laurencin: “I am going to the Louvre, Madam, do you need anything?” Picasso, who may have commissioned the theft himself, used the sculptures for his famous masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).

In May 1911, after some adventures abroad about which he entertained Apollinaire through letters, Géry Pieret returned to Paris. The poet lodged him in his kitchen in exchange for some menial and secretarial jobs. In June, Géry Pieret told Apollinaire that he had stolen a third statuette from the Louvre and kept it in his host’s lodgings. In August came the shocking news: the Mona Lisa had been stolen from the Louvre.

Sheet music cover of a song about the theft of the Mona Lisa. (for copyright reasons,click on this link to see a picture of a street vendor selling this sheet music)

Géry Pieret smelling profit, or hoping for his 15 minutes of fame, presented himself as Baron Ignace d’Ormesan at the headquarters of the newspaper Paris-Journal. He bragged about how easy it was to steal from museums and as a proof of his audacity he handed over the recently stolen statuette.

While reading the article published by the newspaper, Apollinaire suddenly remembered the two other stolen statuettes bought by Picasso who kept them hidden in his sock drawer. In panic Picasso and Apollinaire ran out to throw the statuettes in the Seine but soon changed plans and decided Apollinaire would bring them to the offices of Paris-Journal. He tried to do this anonymously, but was arrested and put in jail. He was accused of involvement not only in the theft of the statuettes but also in that of the Mona Lisa.

‘Le Jocond’ by Pierre Arezzo, Ch. Thuillier & Will, published by Marcel Labbé (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Pousthomis.

Apollinaire informed the police that the thief of the three statuettes was Géry Pieret and that Picasso had bought two of them. By then Géry Pieret had left France, but Picasso was questioned by the police. Picasso was so scared he even denied knowing his friend Apollinaire. He was not jailed by lack of evidence. After six days in custody and after pressure from the Parisian art world Apollinaire was released and neither the painter nor the poet were charged with receiving stolen goods.

Apollinaire was devastated by the whole affair and the way he had been treated. Moreover, after leaving prison he was expelled from his apartment. Marie Laurencin and her mother had to shelter him in their house. A year later their turbulent liaison was over.

The real thief of the Mona Lisa, Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught in December 1913 when he tried to sell the painting in Firenze.

Frontpage of the ‘Journal Illustré Quotidien Excelsior’, December, 14th 1913.

A newspaper illustration after his arrest illustrates that stealing from the Louvre was indeed not difficult at all. There were no alarms and the artworks were not firmly secured. The thief only had to unhook the painting, take it out of the frame, hide the canvas under his blouse and use a small staircase to leave the museum. Et voilà, as simple as that.

In 1931 the theft of the Mona Lisa was romanticised in a German film Der Raub der Mona Lisa. The same year Henri Sullivan composed his foxtrot Mona Lisa which has nothing to do with the film but the French sheet music has a wonderful cover illustrated by Kramer.

‘Der Raub der Mona Lisa’ by Robert Stolz & Walter Reisch published by Alrobi (Berlin, 1931) and illustrated by Herzig. Right: ‘Mona Lisa’ by Henry Sullivan & Desmond Carter, published by Chappell (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by Kramer.

Our finale is also unconnected to the story of the great robbery. But Nat King Cole’s soft baritone voice will probably steal your heart if not your ear.

Sobre the Vagues – Sur las Wellen – Uber le Olas

Sheet music 'Sobre las Olas' by Juventino Rosas
Sobre las Olas‘ by Juventino Rosas. Published by Friedrich Hofmeister (Leipzig, s.d.)

It is not our collector’s goal, but we have many duplicates of the sheet music ‘Over the Waves’ (Sobre las Olas in Spanish, Über den Wellen in German, Sur les Vagues in French, Sopra le Onde in Italian).

Not surprisingly the waltz, Sobre las olas, has sometimes been incorrectly attributed to Johann Strauss. But is was composed by a Mexican, Juventino Rosas (1868-1894). His life has been documented and filmed. Beware though, because many lies and fantasies have been written about him.  What is true —and sad—  is that he died too young at the age of 26.

Juventino Rosas in 1894 (source: wikipedia:en)

We want to concentrate on the iconic representation of Sobre las Olas on all the above covers. Where does it come from? Why did the music publishers all over Europe apparently follow the convention to represent a young nymph, fairy or woman floating above foaming water, always with bare arms, twirling and undulating, wrapped in lots of light fabric? Send us a postcard if you know the answer, please.

At that time Art Nouveau is in full bloom, and the flowing gowns echo the characteristic whiplash curves employed by many fin-de-siècle artists.

Sopra le Onde‘ by Juventino Rosas. Published by Carisch & Jänichen (Milano, s.d.)

What strikes us, is the graphical similarity with the representation of the famous Serpentine Dance created by Loïe Fuller at the Folies Bergère, as seen on posters around 1900.

Loïe Fuller, left: by PAL (Jean de Paleologue); middle: by BAC (Ferdinand Sigismond Bach),1892; right: by Jules Chéret, 1897.

Of course, seeing Loïe Fuller in action is another thing. Here she is, metamorphosing from a bat, in an original silent film by Segundo de Chomon. He was a brilliant Spanish film pioneer who worked in Paris and is often compared to Georges Méliès, due to his frequent camera tricks and optical illusions. The film is from 1902 (and not 1905 as indicated on YouTube). Although Segundo de Chomon hand painted some copies, this one is recently stencil-coloured.

In another Segundo de Chomon film The creation of the Serpentine (1908) Mephistopheles interrupts a peaceful evening of dancing in a French salon. Showing his real face, the demon creates a woman who multiplies in numerous Serpentine dancers, all twisting their robes until they finally explode into flames. Wow!

And here is an excerpt from La Danseuse a 2017 biopic of Loïe Fuller, played and danced by none other than I’ll Kill Her Soko. Perhaps not really a must-see, but it gives a good impression of the colour effects that were originally used and designed by Fuller herself.

Now back to our Sobre las Olas with an Uzbek interpretation. It surely beats kittens on Facebook.

Table of six ‘Sobre las Olas’ sheet music above: (clockwise starting top left) (1) published by Ernst & Paul Fischer (Berlin, s.d.); (2)published by Alfred Michow (Berlin, s.d.); (3) published by Adolf Kunz (Berlin, s.d.); (4) published by Otto June, Leipzig, s.d., illustration signed G.B; (5) published by Anton J. Benjamin (Hamburg, s.d.); (6) unknown publication.

Le Voyage à Robinson

Le Voyage à Robinson‘ by Lucien Collin, lyrics by Gaston Villemer and Lucien Delormel. Published by C. Joubert Editeur, Paris (s.d.) and illustrated by Adrien Barrère.

For Le voyage à Robinson the illustrator of the sheet music imagined a girl with puckered lips waiting to be kissed by an artistic young man. The gifted caricaturist Adrien Barrère must have been inspired by the flirtatious liaison described by the lyricists Villemer and Delormel.  Their song —first performed in 1884— became a belle-époque classic. It tells the story of an innocent girl taken advantage of during an outing to a village resort called Robinson. Oh no, and the trip started so well though!

Te rappelles-tu le jour de ma fête
Où tu m’emmenas rire à Robinson ?
Nous avions alors de l’amour en tête
Car nos cœurs chantaient la même chanson.

[ Do you remember when on my birthday
you gaily took me for a ride to Robinson?
Both our heads were then filled with love
As our hearts were humming the same song. ]

A few rhymes later the story unbridles a little:

Dans l’arbre fameux je grimpais bien vite
Le vent souleva ma jupe un peu trop
Et toi, curieux, montant à ma suite
En voyant cela, tu crias “Plus haut !”

[ Into the famous tree I quickly climbed
The wind lifted my skirt a bit
And curious you, following behind,
Seeing that cried “Higher up!” ]

Let us hear Annie Girardot sing about the Voyage à Robinson, and how it ends in woeful memories.

In the 19th and early 20th century guinguettes were a popular destination for Parisian day trippers. A guinguette was an establishment for ample drinking, simple eating and lively dancing. Traditionally it was located next to a river or to a lake in the Parisian suburbs.

The Robinson guinguettes were situated not along the water but in a forest near Paris. For over a century they attracted a crowd of Parisians who came to relax in the forest on Sunday. It all started with an innkeeper who in 1848 built a suite of interconnected tree houses in a majestic chestnut tree. He named his guinguette Au Grand Robinson. He had confused Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe who lived in a cave and ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ who lived in a tree house as described by Johann Wyss in his book from 1813.

Entrance of the ‘Vrai arbre Robinson’ with a statue of Robinson Crusoe.

The romantic tree houses high up in the gnarled branches of giant chestnuts were decorated as dining rooms with wooden furniture.  They were surrounded by a rustic railing and covered with a thatched roof. Some of them could accommodate up to ten patrons. The waiter hoisted the dishes and drinks up in large baskets using a rope and pulley system.

Le voyage à Robinson‘ by Lucien Collin, Gaston Villemer and Lucien Delormel, published by Bathlot-Joubert (Paris, [1885]) and illustrated by Gustave Donjean.
The tree houses were in high demand. Young couples in search of privacy needed a lot of money and luck to reserve one of these intimate spots. Love is in the air. To protect one’s self even more from prying eyes, one could draw the curtains that surrounded the hut…  Why do I keep thinking about the Mile High Club?

Parisians relax en masse. Left the Vrai Arbre and right the Grand Arbre.

Soon copycats seeing the success of Au Grand Robinson were on the lookout for big trees in the surrounding area. As soon as they found one they started to build tree houses in it. At the beginning of the 20th century there were up to 30 establishments that had thus created their small hamlet of restaurants and taverns. Each claimed to have the most beautiful or the biggest tree. Hence, for authenticity’s sake Au Grand Robinson was renamed Le Vrai Arbre Robinson (The Real Robinson Tree).

Apart from its tree houses the Robinson guinguettes were known for donkey rides…

ezeltjes robinson
Left: ‘Taking turns’. Upper right: ‘A real tumble’. Lower right: ‘The fall of the horse rider’.

…swings,

Swings at Robinson, 1921 (source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

… frolicsome bigophone parades,

Bigophone band at Le Vrai Arbre Robinson, 1921 (source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

…and wedding parties.

La Mariée de Robinson’ by Emile Spencer & Léo Lelièvre published by A Repos (Paris, s.d.).

By the 1950s people had gotten tired of the Robinson guinguettes which started to close down one after the other. In 1966 the French rock singer Johnny Halliday together with a friend bought the original guinguette Le Vrai Arbre Robinson. Johnny (no need for his last name in France!) and his copain transformed the guinguette into a ranch and baptized it Robinson Village. The spirit of Robinson Crusoe was abandoned in favour of that of the American Wild West.

Johnny Hallyday performing at Robinson Village in 1966.

The small theme park boasted a mitraillette saloon, an Indian village, a Western Show, a disco and a Jerkium (where one could dance the Jerk).

Unfortunately the hope of the entrepreneurs to revive the spirit of the guinguette was smothered: Robinson Village had to close soon after it had opened.

Travelling back in time to 1966, Johnny sings his version of Black is blackGo Johnny go!


Further reading: “Mémoire de guingettes” by Francis Bauby, Sophie Orivel and Martin Pénet (Omnibus, 2003)