Category Archives: Paris

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)

Marche des cubistes

marche des cubistes031
‘Marche des Cubistes’ by Eugène Reynaud, published by Hachette (Paris) and illustrated by Clérice Frères in 1914.

Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso pioneered the cubist style from 1907 on. By the time that Clérice created this ‘cubist’ sheet music cover in 1914, just before the outbreak of the Great War, the revolutionary trend was already past its prime. But apparently it was still bon ton to mock the avant-garde artists. It puzzles me that for his drawing Clérice chose the stereotype of the Belle-Epoque artist. During the late nineteenth century the archetypical French male bohemian sported a van Dyck beard. It was named for the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck who portrayed numerous men having shaven cheeks but wearing sharply pointed beards with curled moustaches. The points and the curls were achieved through intense hair brushing and twirling with wax or pomade.

l'aveu
‘L’ Aveu’ by Henri Natif and Villemer, published by C. Joubert in Paris (sd) and illustrated by Faria.

Also part of the outfit of the fin-de-siècle artist was the lavallière, a large floppy bow worn around the neck like a pussycat bow. The lavallière got its name from one of the chief mistresses of Louis XIV, Louise de La Vallière who allegedly was the first woman to wear a tie. In the late nineteenth century the lavallière was cherished not only by artists but also by students, anarchists and leftist intellectuals. Even Picasso was still wearing one in 1904.

picasso lavalliere
Picasso in 1904 wearing a lavallière and his Spanish corduroy jacket.

A large felt hat à la Rembrandt, a chequered or striped garment and occasionally a cloak completed the artist’s apparel, a distinct attire against bourgeois stiffness.

j'ai reve
‘J’ai rêvé de t’aimer’ by Gustave Goublier & Charles Fallot. Published by Enoch (Paris) and illustrated by Leonce Burret (sd).

It is often useful for an illustrator to resort to stereotypes. For example, one immediately understood from the cover above that the man being lovingly tickled on the nose was either an artist or a left-wing egghead. On the cover below, the message was also quick and clear: the man unable to pay for his meal is obviously a bohemian artist, taking pride in his precarious financial situation and defying the establishment.

dejeuner pas cher
‘Un déjeuner pas cher’ by Will & Plébus published by Marcel Labbé (Paris) and illustrated by Clérice Frères in 1912.
Like the cubists, Clérice naively breaks up his subjects geometrically. But there it stops. It’s a far cry from the way Juan Gris painted his fellow artist Picasso.
Juan_Gris_-_Portrait_of_Pablo_Picasso_-_Google_Art_Project
‘Portrait of Pablo Picasso’ by Juan Gris (1912).
As for Clérice’s stereotype of the artist: the cubists definitely weren’t wearing the Belle Epoque outfit anymore. During the decade preceding the outbreak of World War I, artists from all over the world formed a vibrant, international avant-garde group in Paris. They were ‘modern’ and dumped the pointed beards and the lavallière. They were defiant all right, but with their art and not particularly with the way they dressed.
kubben
Upper left: Francis Picabia. Upper right: Marcel Duchamp. Lower left: Georges Braque. Lower right: Pablo Picasso. All pictures 1910-1916.

Nonetheless, the cliché of the bohemian artist was used well into the twentieth century as can be seen on the photographs below and on our sheet music cover illustrated by Pol Rab in 1921.

marcel en rodolphe
Left: French baritone René Lits, as Marcel in Puccini’s La Bohème (1948). Right: the famous Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso, as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème (1903).
rab peintre
‘Avec un peu d’peinture’ by René Mercier, Clément Vautel & Max Eddy, published by Pêle-Mêle (Paris) and illustrated by Pol Rab in 1921.

Some artists even became a larger than life French stereotype, like the Danish painter (and sheet music designer) Sven Brash who lived in Paris between 1906 and 1914. Speaking for him, Brash was an exquisite cartoonist and he may well have made fun of himself in this pose…

Brash_Sven-portrait

Madame Rasimi’s Ba-Ta-Clan

hullo clown
‘Hullo Clown’ by Roger Guttinguer, published by Lucien Brulé (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by M. A. Bonnami.

This captivating drawing of a clown by Marie-Antoinette Bonnami illustrates a song from one of Madame Rasimi’s revues. After her divorce from the director of the Casino-Kursaal in Lyon, she developed her own entertainment career in Paris. There she became the pioneer of revues with nearly-nude women, elegant costumes and lavish sets. Madame Bénédicte (aka Berthe) Rasimi was the owner of the Ba-Ta-Clan from 1910 until 1926. Under her direction the music hall achieved its greatest success.

mme rasimi3
Madame Rasimi, 1915

When it started in 1864, the Ba-Ta-Clan was a vaudeville theatre where people met to have a drink and watch jugglers and acrobats. Or one could see a ballet, listen to concerts, play billiards or have a dance. Its name was borrowed from Offenbach’s operetta, and its architecture and decor was equally inspired by the Chinoiserie musicale.

Postcard of the Ba-Ta-Clan on the Boulevard Voltaire in the Bastille quarter of Paris.
Postcard of the Ba-Ta-Clan on the Boulevard Voltaire in the Bastille quarter of Paris (ca 1900).
The entrance of the Ba-Ta-Clan and its staff around 1910.
The entrance of the Ba-Ta-Clan and its staff around 1910.
affiches bataclan
Left: before Rasimi’s time, the Ba-Ta-Clan featured Miss Matthews and her mysterious serpentine dance, and also Paulus on a bicycle. Right: another Belle-Epoque poster for a revue around 5 tableaux vivants. (source: Bibliotheque Nationale de France).

Madame Rasimi changed the Ba-Ta-Clan, but not into an elitist music hall nor in a theatre showing abundant nakedness (that reputation was reserved for the Folies-Bergère, l’Olympia and the Casino de Paris). In the Ba-Ta-Clan the audience rather revelled in the pleasure of discovering sumptuous decors and magnificent costumes, mostly designed by Madame Rasimi herself. And there were of course a host of big stars to overwhelm the public: Mistinguett, Maurice Chevalier, Parisys… Rasimi’s troupe brought acts which were a mix between chorus lines, classical ballet and tableaux vivants. But always intertwined with a bit of naughty nudity.

Thus, the writer Colette also performed for Madame Rasimi in 1911 and again in 1912. In the pictures below we see Colette in her dressing room in the Ba-Ta-Clan. Her costume for La Chatte Amoureuse is rather demure, but in other pantomimes she donned the obligate bit of nakedness.

colette chatte3
Above: two pictures of Colette in her dressing room at the Ba-Ta-Clan. Below: Colette in La Chair.

In 1914 the Ba-Ta-Clan very optimistically announced its spring and summer revue: “The spring season will be the most amazing attraction in Paris during these splendid months…which only the hot July sun will be able to interrupt…The name itself ‘Y’a d’ jolies Femmes’ is a find. And be assured there will be a lot of beautiful girls, undressed with this exquisite art, suggestive, candidly lewd and deliciously perverse…”. And strangely, as a matter of fact the outbreak of the First World War was by no means counterproductive for the Ba-Ta-Clan. Au contraire, Madame Rasimi put on no less than 18 revues!
During the Great War the theatre programs all had the same illustration by Georges Lepape: a girl in a garden who has to choose between a mysterious missive from a masked man or a rose from a toothless devil.

Theater program for le Ba-Ta-Clan, illustrated by Georges Lepape. 1916 - Bibliothèque Nationale.
Illustration by Georges Lepape for the Ba-Ta-Clan program during WWI – Bibliothèque Nationale.

Also during the war, in 1917, Madame Rasimi staged the famous oriental pantomime L’Orient Merveilleux ou 1002 Nuits de Bagdad with two of the biggest stars of the music hall, Maurice Chevalier and Mistinguett. The famous Erté designed and costumed an entire act which featured the favourite of the caliph  wearing ropes of pearls around her breasts and harem pants.

erte costumes
Costume design by Erté for L’Orient Merveilleux ou 1002 Nuits de Bagdad, Ba-Ta-Clan, Paris, 1917 – Dallas Museum of Art.

After the war, in the roar of the Twenties, Lucien Brulé published gorgeous covers for Madame Rasimi’s productions. They were illustrated by Jack Roberts and by Marie-Antoinette Bonnami.

bataclan struis

brule bataclan
Sheetmusic published by Lucien Brulé and illustrated by Jack Roberts and M.A.Bonnami (see Illustrated Sheet Music website).

In contrast to the shows, the covers of the sheet music are rather demure and prudish, probably not to shock the publisher’s larger public. The only titillating cover we have found so far for Madame Rasimi’s productions, is for the Danse des Libellules by Franz Léhar. The illustration is by Georges Dola, though he also made a more mainstream cover for this same popular Ba-Ta-Clan revue.

Sheet music covers illustrated by Georges Dola for 'La Danse des Libellules'.
Two sheet music covers illustrated by Georges Dola for the Franz Léhar revue ‘La Danse des Libellules’.

The pictures below show a few examples of Madame Rasimi’s costumes for La Danse des Libellules.

A BA-TA-Clan, quelques jolies interprètes de la Danse des libellules by Waléry – Comoedia n° 32, 1924 – Bibliothèque Nationale

In 1921 Madame Rasimi produced an abridged music-hall adaptation of the surrealist ballet Le Boeuf sur le toit by Darius Milhaud. She included that personalised version of Le Boeuf sur le toit in one of her revues, of course with a lot of nudity and humour.

Illustration for Le Boeuf sur le toit by Raoul Dufy.
Illustration for Le Boeuf sur le toit by Raoul Dufy.

In 1922 Madame Rasimi took her ensemble on a first South American tour. Other tours would soon follow and her shows were a great sensation in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City. During her first visit she had a conflict with the Brazilian press, who accused her of caricaturing the Brazilian people in her version of Le Boeuf sur le Toit. Madame Rasimi hastened to state in a letter that Ba-Ta-Clan had never offended or ridiculed Brazil in any of its revues: the ultramodern pantomime Le Boeuf sur le Toit, although inspired by Brazilian music only parodied the American Prohibition law. She must have mollified the Brazilian press as her revue became an instant success.

Madame Rasimi’s spectacles triggered a new South American concept, bataclanismo and the bataclana. At the time the word bataclana was used to indicate a kind of female star who represented the erotic, and more dangerous aspect of the flapper. Later the term was used to indicate an actress who is supposedly singing or dancing but is really just showing off her body, and by extension a stripper.

faut voir ca
Madame Rasimi’s bataclanas…

Unfortunately, a tour of South America and the Caribbean in 1926 ruined Madame Rasimi and she had to sell the Ba-Ta-Clan. She bid farewell to her beloved chorus girls who nicknamed her Madame Rase-Mimi (Mrs. Shave-Mimi) because she told them to shave their eyebrows and armpits. Still, Madame Rasimi continued her career as a costume designer well into the Fifties.

Madame Rasimi’s Ba-Ta-Clan was a place for lightness and joie de vivre, not a place for horror. For the moment, I’ll just pretend there is no evil in the world and play an innocent game of Ba-Ta-Clan.

 


Further reading: Bataclanismo ! Or, How Female Deco Bodies Transformed Postrevolutionary Mexico City by Ageeth Sluis