Pierre de Régnier aka Tigre

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Milina, chica mia, cover illustrated by Tigre

The French writer and cartoonist Pierre de Régnier (1898-1943),  aka Tigre, had an artistic pedigree to be proud of. His maternal grandfather was the Cuban-born French poet José-Maria de Heredia, a respected member of the Académie française. His mother was Marie de Régnier, novelist and poet, nom de plume Gérard d’Houville. His legal father was the French aristocrat, Henri de Régnier, one of the most important symbolist poets. Pierre referred to him as The Immortal. And his godfather (and biological father) was the nonconformist poet and writer Pierre Louÿs.

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Marie de Régnier between her husband Henri de Régnier, on the left, and her lover Pierre Louÿs

His mother Marie was a non-conformist to say the least. She defied her aristocratic-bourgeois milieu by not wearing a corset and by having several lovers, male and female, during her marriage and by posing naked for her lover Pierre Louÿs.

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Marie de Régnier, photograph by Pierre Louÿs

Pierre Louÿs was born in our beloved and beautiful Belgian city, Ghent. He wrote erotic texts set in antiquity, delicate obscene verses but also loads of secret and quite filthy ones, only to be found after his death. He is best known for his lesbian-themed poems Chansons de Bilitis (Songs of Bilitis). Louÿs sold these poems as translations from a Greek poetess, Bilitis, a contemporary of Sappho. In fact it was a hoax which his good friend and brother in mischief, Claude Debussy could very well appreciate. Debussy set three of Louÿs’s Chansons de Bilitis to music. The sexually obsessed Louÿs was also a keen amateur photographer…

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Photographs by Pierre Louÿs. Eat this Kim Kardashian !

As a child, Pierre de Régnier was cherished by his unconventional mother, who lovingly called him Tigre (Tiger).

Tigre, the spitting image of his mother (in Femina, january 1905).

As a young man, just after World War I, he plunged head first into the Années Folles (the Roaring Twenties). A real party animal, clad in a tuxedo and white scarf, he tumbled every night head over heels into the Parisian nightlife.

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Pierre de Régnier

In summer he left Paris for the casino’s and racecourses of Deauville or the French Riviera. Pierre de Régnier was a big spender and his parents had to help him out more than once. His life in the fast lane was alas a short one. His obstinacy for partying turned out nasty and self-destructive.

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Deauville, written and illustrated by Pierre de Régnier (Tigre) in 1927. Dedicated to ‘Fred, the bartender of the Casino, who prevented me from dying of thirst’.

Pierre de Régnier left a diary in which he wrote about his empty life of a wastrel, consuming opium, cocaine, absinthe, gin or calvados. Every entry of this diary ends with the word: cuite (plastered) followed by  the hour of his arrival home, never before dawn of course. According to him everyone and everything had to be rigolo or funny; seriousness was an ugly trait. But deep down he was melancholic, and his poems are drenched in mal de vivre or spleen.

‘Je bois mes nuits mélancoliques
En vieux noceur désabusé
Mes aurores sont romantiques
Et mes regrets désespérés’

Pierre de Regnier wrote only about subjects he knew well: parties, endless nights, alcohol, bars and beautiful women, mondaine or demi-mondaine.The novels and poems he wrote are now mostly forgotten. Only Chroniques d’un Patachon, a collection of society columns about the Parisian nightlife in the thirties is still printed. The columns, short and ephemeral, like his pleasures, were written in his typical style: humorous, frivolous, ironic and tender. 

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Henri de Régnier, The Immortal, by Tigre

Pierre de Régnier illustrated his columns himself with simple caricatures in black ink. He always signed his drawings Tigre. I’ll let you be the judge whether he successfully portrayed his subjects on the following sheet music covers.

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Left, ‘Japona’ foxtrot by Marcel Learsi, dansed by Odette Florelle (pictured above right) and by Armand Bernard (pictured below right).
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Left, ‘Hep!’ Foxtrot by Fr. Withers. Right a cotton-top tamarin (a kind of sagouin).

Hep! was dedicated to the sagouins (tamarins in English) but Tigre clearly had no notions of their morphology. Tamarins are squirrel-sized New World monkeys. The morphology was not that important because the word sagouins is used here to indicate men with despicable behaviour like bastards or S.O.B.s.

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Musidora as Irma Vep illustrated by Guy Arnoux

We end this post with an extract of Les Vampires, the famous silent crime serial by Louis Feuillade from 1915. If you fast-forward to 5:20 you can see Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire) perform in the ‘Howling Cat’ Club. Irma Vep was portrayed by the beautiful femme fatale Musidora, the first mistress of Pierre de Régnier. Now incidentally, she also had been the mistress of Pierre’s biological father, Pierre Louÿs. Well yes, these artistic circles surely had their share of complicated relations! And then, what to say about Pierre Louÿs probably being the son of his half brother…

El Plesiosauro: Nessie in Patagonia

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‘El Plesiosauro’, by Rafael d’Agostino, illustrator unknown, 1922.

The tango ‘El Plesiosauro’ was composed by Rafael D’Agostino and dedicated to Clemente Onelli (1864-1924), the Italian-born director of the Buenos Aires zoo. In 1922 a letter informed Onelli that an enormous animal had been spotted in a Patagonian lake. It had a huge neck like a swan, moved like a crocodile and left traces of large footprints. This was no doubt ample proof of a surviving specimen of the plesiosaurs, an order extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period, approximately 66 million years ago.

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Left, the portrait of Clemente Onelli. On the right, the cover of El Plesiosaurio, tango by Arturo Terri (not in our collection) with a cartoon of Clemente Onelli riding a plesiosaur.

Onelli, a palaeontologist, hoped to find a new specimen for his zoo and arranged an expedition. To prove his point he had published accounts of other sightings well into the previous century. His case was backed by a Canadian student in divinity and his father who  wanted their fifteen minutes of fame. They reported witnessing the Patagonian monster twelve years earlier, in 1910.

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Article published in the Toronto Post, April 6, 1922

At the request of the Argentine Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Argentinian Minister of the Interior prohibited the capture of the beast. Onelli protested heavily against this decision in the ‘name of science’ and the expedition, armed with elephant guns and dynamite, plunged into the wilderness. Onelli himself did not participate because of health problems. The quest for the beast got worldwide media attention, such as in this article of The New York Times.

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Article published in The New York Times, March 7, 1922.

The expedition was even mentioned in an article of the Scientific American, titled Is the Argentine Plesiosaurus a Fake or a Scientific Marvel?’. The author concluded ironically that if the plesiosaur ever existed, it appeared to have fled elsewhereNeedless to say that the expedition was fruitless. This lead to much mockery and merriment as witnessed in this photo of the plesiosaur carnival float in 1923.

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Carnival float in Bariloche, Argentina, 1923. Source: Archivo Visual Patagónico

Plesiosaurs were large aquatic reptiles that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. The first two plesiosaur skeletons were found by Mary Anning (1799-1847) an English fossil collector and amateur palaeontologist. Being a woman she never got the recognition she deserved during her lifetime. Mary came from a working class family in Lyme Regis. She never went to school but could read and write a little, and she drew rather well. Her father taught her how to find fossils on the beach and sell them to tourists. Mary hunted on the beaches and cliffs between Lyme Regis and Charmouth, part of the Jurassic Coast as it is called now.

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Mary Anning with her dog Troy who was killed during a landslide on one of her excursions.

When she found a special fossil she would send her drawing of it to potential buyers. One of Mary’s major discoveries was what we now call the plesiosaur. She found its skeleton in 1823 and made the following sketch for her fellow scientists and for possible buyers.

Mary_Anning_PlesiosaurusAccording to a science blog on the Guardian’s website the two persons on the photo below could well be Mary and her lifelong friend Henri de la Beche, a geologist. Although the supposition lacks evidence, it provides a nice picture to end our palaeontological post.

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The Geologists, 1843, Devon. Salt print by William Henry Fox Talbot. Photograph: The National Media Museum, Bradford

Further reading: Austin Whittall, Patagonian Monsters

Hop, Skip and Jump

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‘Meco Fox-trot’ by Jan von Lindern, published by Rademaker’s in 1923.

This cover shows an elegant man and his equally refined lady friend teasing each other with a Meco milk chocolate bar. They seem eager to take a bite. The fox-trot was ordered by the chocolate factory Rademaker’s as publicity. The chocolate bar with a light blue wrapper was sold in tins. The brand name Meco was designed in a typical De Stijl yellow typeface: the M has rectangular corners and is rotated ninety degrees to form an E.

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Tin for Meco chocolate bars (1925- 1935)

Meco milk chocolate bars were made by Rademaker’s Royal Cacao and Chocolate Factory in The Hague, Netherlands. On the backside of the sheet music cover we are presented with publicity for their other specialities: Haga vanilla chocolate, Fenix Cacao and their most important sweet Haagse Hopjes.

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Left, backside of the cover with publicity for Rademaker’s products. Right, a tin of Fenix cocoa.

Haags-hopje-470x295Hopjes are coffee-flavoured candies. They are as Dutch as tulips and were named after baron Hendrik Hop (1723-1808) who let inadvertently simmer a mixture of coffee, cream and sugar too long on his stove until it caramelised. Baron Hop liked this sweet so much that he ordered his baker Theodorus van Haaren to recreate these lumps of coffee. Baron Hop was very enthusiastic and offered the sweets to all his classy and noble guests. The lumps of coffee  were soon exported as a luxury product all over Europe. First they were sold as Baron Hop’s bonbons.

hopjes blikFrom 1880 on they were called Haagse Hopjes. The hopjes became so popular that a real hopjes war started as many brands claimed to be the producer of the original hopje. Rademaker’s was but one of them, although they definitely were the first to wrap the sweets into an individual paper.

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The Rademaker family, in the middle Johannes Rademaker (1843-1916) founder of the Rademaker’s Company – around 1900 (source: Haagse Beeldbank).
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Although the hopjes were very popular, the hopjes stall at the beach in Scheveningen seems not very successful. The people on the beach definitely prefer a lemonade or other sweets. 1905 (source: Haagse Beeldbank).
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Rademaker’s factory, 1891 (psource: Haagse Beeldbank).

The first Rademaker’s factory in The Hague burned down in 1901 and a new one was built elsewhere in the city with a remarkable oriental-looking front.

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Rademaker’s factory, about 1910 (source: Haagse Beeldbank).

At the end of the 20s the factory proved too small and again a new one was built, this time as a modernist structure.

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Rademaker’s factory, about 1930 (photo Haagse Beeldbank).

An early commercial dating back to 1925 shows us the production process of the Meco chocolate bars and of the Haagse hopjes.

Today the Haagse Hopjes aren’t Dutch anymore. They are owned by a Swedish firm and produced in Italy. In Belgium we are still producing a coffee-flavoured sweet in a beautiful wrapper, the Caramella Mokatine. It is made from the original 1925 recipe by Confiserie Roodthooft in Antwerp.

mokatine enkelAs far as we know Roodthooft did not order any sheet music but we can imagine how the cover would look…

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Left, Le Caid, foxtrot by Raoul Moretti, illustrated by de Valerio, published by Salabert in 1923. Right, Beduinens Karlekssang, foxtrot by Ejnar Westling illustrated by Tiberg, published by Elkan & Schildknecht in 1925.