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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
In 1914 the Ba-Ta-Clan very optimistically announced its spring and summer revue: “Thespringseason will be themost amazingattraction inParisduringthese splendidmonths…which onlythe hotJuly sunwill be ableto interrupt…The name itself ‘Y’a d’ jolies Femmes’ is a find. And be assured there will be a lot of beautiful girls, undressedwiththis exquisiteart,suggestive, candidlylewdand deliciouslyperverse…”. 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.
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.
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.
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.
The pictures below show a few examples of Madame Rasimi’s costumes for La Danse des Libellules.
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.
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.
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
The cartoon by Faria for the comic song Devant la Samaritaine shows a half-naked woman and a lecherous fisherman, the popular singer Paulus. The only Samaritaine in Paris we knew till now was the department store near the Pont Neuf (which closed definitely in 2005). This ignorance explains why we couldn’t make sense of Faria’s picture. So, it’s google time again.
Les Bains de la Samaritaine depicted on the cover was a floating construction on the Seine containing public baths. The stylish and stunning vessel contained 100 bathtubs, placed in small cubicles distributed over two floors. One could go there for a simple bath, or for medicinal baths, steam baths, showers and hydrotherapy.
The hydraulic pump and the immense filters used to purify the water of the Seine were installed in the roof space of the building. The chimneys of the heating boilers with their decoration of metal palms were famous throughout Paris.
Les Bains de la Samaritaine, as well as the famous department store, took their name from a large hydraulic water pump. It was installed in 1608 to power the water of the Seine into the Louvre and the Tuileries. The pump was rebuilt in 1715. The facade of the building that housed the pump contained a sculpture representing Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, hence the name.
It is not known when the baths were first installed next to the Pont Neuf. The first authorisation to build hot baths on a boat dates back to 1761. On a preserved plan for such a bathing establishment we see small cubicles. Some contain a bath, others also accommodate a bed or two baths. There is clearly a physical separation for men and women, with different staircases.
The Bains de la Samaritaine disappeared in 1919. They were sunk by a flood of the Seine.
We wonder if the angler on the following picture is hoping, like Paulus, for a flash of female nudity.
But of course to understand all this we could have read the text of the song. Life can be simple.
Devant les bains de la Samaritaine
Je pêchais sur les bords de Seine
Quand dans un cabinet voisin
Je vis une dame qu’allait prendre un bain
Sa fenêtre était grande ouverte A cette vue qui m’était offerte