Category Archives: Paris

Bobeche et Galimafré

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‘Bobeche et Galimafré’ by Juliano, published by O. Legouix, Paris in 1859 and illustrated by Antoine Barbizet.

This cover shows two Parisian buffoons: Bobèche and Galimafré. It was illustrated by Barbizet in 1859. Even forty years after their successful performances, the pair remained popular in Paris. Bobèche (Antoine Mandelot) and Galimafré (Auguste Guérin) were paradistes or clowns who performed at the Boulevard du Temple in the first quarter of the 19th century.

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‘Bobèche et Galimafré au Boulevard du Temple’, Bibliothèque Nationale de France

At that time the Boulevard du Temple resembled a pleasure garden.  It was lined with theatres. Scattered over the vast expanse of the boulevard were a host of small shows: jugglers, paradistes, monkey showmen, dwarves, giants, skeleton men, strongmen, tightrope walkers and fortune tellers. They attracted a crowd day and night. In the middle, street vendors tried to sell their ware. A typical street vendor at the Boulevard du Temple was the marchand de coco. You can see one standing on the right of the print above. Coco was a lemonade containing liquorice extract. A coco vendor always wore a white apron and carried a large elongated container topped with a figurine to attract attention. He had several drinking cups strapped onto belts. We also see a coco vendor standing in the public at the buffoons’ show, depicted in this cartoon.

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“Daddy, Daddy! says Fanfan, let’s go see Bobèche and Galimafré who are slapping each other. Afterwards you can buy a coco to the health of Angel Pitou, the martyr of freedom.”

A contemporary oil painting also shows the acclaimed theatre performance by Bobèche and Galimafré. Can you pick out the obligatory coco vendor?

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Street theatre performance of Bobeche and Galimafre, c.1820 (oil on canvas) by Jean Roller, Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet

The Parisians nicknamed the Boulevard du Temple ‘Boulevard du Crime’, not because it was dangerous but to allude to the bloody melodramas playing in its theatres.

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An artistic impression of the Boulevard du Temple (1862).

A panoramic painting of the Boulevard du Temple illustrates the extent of the street. Have you spotted our coco man in this crowd? In the year this was painted (1862), almost all of it would be demolished by Baron Haussmann in order to enlarge the Place de la République during the rebuilding of Paris.

The Boulevard du Temple has been rebuilt in the studio for the legendary film Les Enfants du Paradis. In the fragment we see Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault) trying to get to Garance (Arletty) during carnival.

But let’s get back to Bobèche and Galimafré. As told before they were paradistes. A parade is a type of French street entertainment dating back to the renaissance with characters often drawn from the commedia dell’arte. In the first quarter of the 19th century it was a short improvisational buffoonery performed by two or three characters on a balcony outside the smaller theatres, or on outdoor platforms. The sketch was larded with crude humour, vulgarities, double entendres, sexual innuendos and obscene gestures. Slaps and punches enlivened the spectacle. Bobêche and Galimafré were the best-loved parade characters of this period. They always presented their jokes in the form of dialogues.

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Jocrisse, by Juliano, published by O. Legouix, Paris in 1859 and illustrated by Antoine Barbizet.
Bobèche played the standard comedic character of a Jocrisse, the incarnation of stupidity and clumsiness. Bobèche was a city boy who wore colourful clothes, striped stockings and a cornered hat topped with a butterfly.

Galimafré would attract the crowd with a giant rattle. He was a tall lanky man, dressed in the costume of a Norman peasant. His wig’s hair was cut straight across the forehead. On top of that he wore a kind of bowler hat.

During twenty-some years Bobèche and Galimafré performed on the Boulevard du Temple but also in private salons. The fall of Napoleon also meant the end of the popular duo. Galimafré refused to perform for the ‘enemy’ and worked as a stage technician for the rest of his life. Bobèche became director of a small theatre in Rouen. But soon his theatre went bankrupt and nothing was heard of him since.

Ellebasi, a Jewel of a Composer

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A la Tourterelle, ballad by Ellebasi, Cannes 1893, dedicated to Madame Antonio dei Conti Cioja.

Some years ago in Paris we found a small bundle of handmade sheet music. Although the illustrations and music seemed rather naive and overly romantic we couldn’t resist buying it. Sometimes people craftily copied expensive printed sheet music, but in this case they were handwritten by the composer herself. She signed as ‘Ellebasi‘, clearly the reverse of Isabelle.

A bit of sleuthing on our part turned up her real name: Isabelle-Marie-Henriette Mellerio who became Isabelle Charpentier after her marriage to Lucien Charpentier, a not so gifted composer. Composers often dedicate their work to family or friends and so did Ellebassi. This enabled us to reconstruct her family story, which is rather interesting. We’ll even add a bit of scandal at the end.

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Rêve d’amour, berceuse by Ellebasi, dedicated to Madame François Mellerio, her sister in law Suzanne Bonardi who also painted the illustration.

Ellebasi belonged to the famous jeweller family Mellerio dits Meller with roots in Italy. Being jewellers to kings and queens the family earned a large fortune. Isabelle Mellerio, born in 1866, was the youngest of seven children. Her family lived above their boutique in Paris. She was only 16 years old when her father Jean-Antoine, also a jeweller, passed away.

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Left, a drawing for a diamond and ruby set, and on the right design sketches for tiaras. Circa 1860, by Mellerio dits Meller.

Ellebasi composed the pieces as a young adult, between 1892 and 1896, some of them while living in Cannes. We can only guess if she lived there permanently or if it was her winter place of residence. Apart from the music for Les Courtisans de Flore we haven’t found any of Ellebasi’s compositions in print. In fact, Les Courtisans de Flore probably got printed because lyricist Alfred Gounin-Ghidone himself was a publisher.

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Les Courtisans de Flore by Ellebasi, dedicated to and illustrated in India ink by Madame Pauline Tollet (probably her niece).

And now for the scandal. The son of Isabelle’s great-uncle, Antonio Mellerio, was a misfit. Already at the age of seventeen he plunged into the mid-19th century Parisian society, neglecting his work for gambling and orgies. He was a big spender, misbehaved scandalously and had countless mistresses until at the age of 25 he ‘fell prey’ to Anna de Beaupré. Her name, suggesting an aristocratic background, was an embellishment invented by Anna Trayer. She was the separated wife of a tailor Achille Debacker. Antonio, no doubt madly in love, paid Anna’s old debts and treated her lavishly. His parents disapproved when they moved in together. After the dead of his father in 1860 Antonio left the running of the jewellery store to his cousins, restored his father’s Tailleville castle near Caen in Normandy and the couple changed house.

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A postcard of the Tailleville castle.

When his mother died in 1868, Antonio was eaten alive by guilt for all the pains he had caused her. At the funeral he literally plunged into her grave. Later he acted more and more strangely, often seeming incoherent to his family. Nonetheless the family convinced him to sell his inherited share of the jewellery business to Isabelle’s uncle Joseph Mellerio. Antonio was also persuaded to make a will in favour of his cousins. Isabelle’s father was named executor. Furthermore Antonio promised to finish his relation with Mme Debacker and he burned her letters in the fireplace. And in an effort to redeem himself he mutilated both his hands by keeping them in the fire chanting ‘Burn! Burn! Burn! Purify my past!’ He lost all his fingers and parts of his hands. Later he would learn to write and also draw with his stumps and even, with great perseverance, with his mouth.

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Left, Entre-nous, polka by Ellebasi & Charluc (her husband Lucien Charpentier), illustrated by Louis (possibly her brother) and dedicated to Madame Antoine Mellerio (her mother). Right, Hand-painted cover of L’Hirondelle by Ellebassi, undated.

But Antonio reconciled with Mme Debacker and became, according to his family, religiously obsessed, seeing angels and devils. Alas, he didn’t profit long from his immense inherited fortune. One day in 1870, he was then 43 years old, he climbed the stairs of his castle and fell (or threw himself) from the top of its belvedere dying instantly. Isabelle’s father who had never visited his cousin before, rushed to Tailleville with the intention of executing Antonio’s will, only to be told that a new will had been found!

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Left, Mélancolie, waltz by Ellebasi and dedicated to Madame Henri Cosson (her sister Marie), 1892. RIght, Souvenir by Ellebassi and dedicated to Madame Gustave Mellerio , her sister in law Hélène Get, who illustrated the cover, 1896

In that new will Antonio had left his complete fortune to Mme Debacker. Moreover he had indicated that after her dead, Tailleville castle and some money should go to a local convent. The family was horrified. Ten of his cousins, including Isabelle’s father, contested this last will on two grounds: Antonio was too unsound of mind to make a valid testament and the beneficiaries had exerted undue influence over Antonio, coercing him into making a testament in their favour. In addition they wanted an annulment of all his previous substantial gifts to Mme Debacker. The trial was a cause célèbre. It scandalized Paris, gossip swirled around and it provided ample material for legal journals. In the end –meanwhile the 1870 franco prussian war had ended– the cousins lost the trial and all the subsequent appeals. Mme Debacker was finally allowed to take possession of her inheritance.

In 1873 this sordid story was made into a poem Red Cotton Night-Cap Country by Robert Browning, the famous English Victorian poet. He had researched the facts reading newspaper reports and transcripts of the legal documents and interviewing residents of Tailleville.

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Sais-tu by Ellebasi, 1892

The family Mellerio dits Meller still have their boutique in Paris, 9 rue de la Paix, right next to Cartier. Mellerio dits Meller is the world’s oldest jeweller existing just over 400 years. Today they are the last important jeweller company to be independent and family owned.

Mellerio dit Meller 9 rue de la Paix in Paris next to Cartier.
Mellerio dit Meller boutique in the rue de la Paix in Paris next to Cartier.

Next time we visit the Place Vendôme in Paris we’ll try to exchange these unique sheet music covers for a tiara. Wouldn’t that be nice!

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Maxima Queen of the Netherlands is happy to wear the Mellerio Ruby Parure, a Christmas gift from King Willem III to his second wife, Queen Emma, in 1889.

Yours truly, Enivid


Further reading:

  • Rough in Brutal Print: The Legal Sources of Browning’s Red Cotton Night-Cap Country by Mark Siegrist.
  • Mellerio dit Meller, joaillier des reines by Vincent Meylan

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…