Category Archives: Paris

The French Panama Papers

Je Revois Paname‘ by Casimir Oberfeld & Albert Willemetz, Saint-Granier & Jean Le Seyeux, published by Salabert (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

Paname is French slang for Paris. The origin of the sobriquet is not clear but this one is the most credible: it was inspired by the Panama Affair, the largest corruption scandal of the 19th century. The affair broke out in 1892, discrediting the government and shaking the foundations of the Republic.

In 1879 Ferdinand de Lesseps had proposed the construction of a 75 km channel, similar to that of Suez, in the isthmus of Panama. The project was expected to last 12 years and cost 600 million francs. Work on the Panama canal began in 1882. But soon technical difficulties and the death toll from tropical diseases undermined the project. Moreover in 1884, the funds of the French Panama Canal Company had dried up while only one-tenth of the  excavations had been completed. To overcome this financial crisis Ferdinand de Lesseps himself proposed to float a lottery loan. This kind of loan was especially attractive to small savers who could always hope for an immediate premium when their numbers were drawn for payback.

La Gigolette du Panama‘ by P. Dumont, published by Repos (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Yves.

To obtain the approval of Parliament for the lottery loan, the instigators plotted a multi-million bribery campaign which would be managed by three men. One of them was the financier Baron Jacques de Reinach who would try to persuade the big fish. He distributed money between politicians, journalists and the haut monde so that they would embellish the company’s situation and support the lottery loan. The adventurer Emile Arton (Aaron by his real name) managed the smaller fry, minor politicians and provincial newspapers. Arton was a dubious entrepreneur, boasting a career of bankruptcies. The third man was Cornélius Herz, an American charlatan and the greatest rogue of the three. In the end he even managed to blackmail his associate de Reinach.

A lottery bond for the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique, 1888.

In 1888 the lottery loan for 720.000 million francs was authorised. But by now the Panama Canal company had come in even more dire straits. Only a year later the company went bankrupt and some 800.000 French investors lost their savings. Many amongst them could ill afford to lose anything at all.

In 1892 the French anti-Semitic political daily, La Libre Parole, started the scandal with a series of articles. Its first source was a disgruntled banker who had quarrelled with de Lesseps. Almost daily the paper added bits and pieces to the story, accusing an ever-widening number of individuals. When other Paris papers followed suit, an official investigation was started. Baron de Reinach killed himself while Herz and Arton both made a run for it. In the song Les Aventures d’Arton it is hinted that the French government was not eager to arrest him, afraid of new revelations.

Arton ou Le retour de l’enfant prodigue‘ by G. Delatouche, melody from ‘Ton ton, ton ton, tontaine, ton ton’, published by Repos (Paris, 1895)

The owner of La Libre Parole was Edouard Drumont, a devout catholic and the principal propagator of anti-Semitism in France. His book La France Juive, with full-fledged diatribes against the Jews, may be regarded as the beginning of the anti-Semitic movement in France. Drumont used the fact that the three main fixers of the lottery loan were of Jewish descent as a battering ram. His continuous rabid articles fed the growing anti-Semitism in France which soon led to the Dreyfus affair (1894) in which Drumont was one of the most strident accusers.

In the light of this, it comes as no surprise that the eager money-grubbers on the sheet music cover ‘Les Aventures d’Arton’ are depicted with enlarged stereotypical Jewish traits.

Les aventures d’Arton‘ by Léo Lelièvre & Emile Spencer, published by Repos (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Yves. Source: gallica.fr.

In the end, a large number of ministers were accused of taking bribes leading to a corruption trial against Ferdinand de Lesseps and his son amongst others. More than a hundred members of parliament were also charged.

With the Panama Affair politicians were no longer trusted in the public eye. And this brings us back to the start of the story: in ‘Les Aventures d’Arton’, he is called a ‘Panamiste’. Tripoteurs Panamistes imply persons who do shady business:

Il fit remettre des listes,
Et donna plusieurs millions
Aux tripoteurs panamistes,
Panamistes, panamistes,
Et bientôt les souscriptions
Firent monter les actions.

According to chronicler Claude Duneton, the first people to use the nickname ‘Paname’ were market gardeners who had to pay a daily tax on the produce in their carts when they entered Paris. At first, around 1903, only politicians and rich Parisians were called Panamistes. Later, it was Paris —the city itself where these sharks lived— which was tagged Paname.

Gradually, in the second decade of the twentieth century, Paname became a more gentle nickname. Around 1917 the French soldiers affectively designated Paname as the city of their dreams. ‘Revoir Paname’ was their intimate desire in the trenches.

Tu le r’verras, Paname‘ by Albert Chantrier, Robert Dieudonné & Roger Myra, published by Halet (Paris, 1917) and illustrated by Nergetris.

The word Paname spread further after the end of the war, especially in the cabarets and music halls of the twenties and thirties.

O! Paname‘ by Vincent Scotto, Géo Koger & E. Audiffred, published by Foucret (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Jack Roberts.

Today, using the phrase “I’m going to see Paname” to express a longing for Paris is terribly old-fashioned.

Umm, old-fashioned?

Time to update the titles of our collection: ‘La meuf de Sept-cinq’.

La Femme de Paname‘ by St. Servan, A. Benoit & A. Danerty, published by Pêle-Mêle (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Germy.

Pilou-Pilou

‘Le Pilou-Pilou’ by Justin Clérice published by Auguste Bosc (Paris, 1907) and illustrated by Clérice Frères.

The cover for ‘Le Pilou-Pilou‘ shows an elegant Parisienne in smart safari clothes complete with a pith helmet. She joyously dances face to face with a Kanak man in tribal attire. In the background they are cheered on by wildly moving warriors. The serpentine curve of their bodies emphasizes the movement of the dance. It also accentuates her round contours: shake your booty baby!
This 1907 cover is yet another cartoonish illustration by Clérice Frères, probably from the hand of Victor, one of the sons of Charles Clérice.

Maybe Clérice studied the publicity postcard of Pilou-Pilou dancers offered by Café Jouve from the Compagnie Française des Cafés Calédoniens. His drawing of the Kanak warrior’s costume is quite accurate including feathers and a casse-tête, a kind of war hammer. Judiciously or puritanically he omitted the penis gourd.

Postcard of the Exposition Coloniale near Paris in 1907, showing Kanak people from the Loyalty Islands (New Caledonia) in front of their hut.

On the other hand it is probable that in 1907, the same year the sheet music was published, Clérice joined the two million visitors of the Exposition Coloniale near Paris. There, in the Jardin Tropical of the Bois de Vincennes, exotic men and women from the former colonies were exhibited to the crowd. Many overseas natives were lured into joining the show, and among them also Kanak people from New Caledonia. Kanaks are the indigenous inhabitants of this Melanesian territory that was colonised by the French in 1853.

In the midst of the New Imperialism period these human zoo’s had become common. What an embarrassing and tragic chapter that was in Western history. Eighteen years earlier than the 1907 Exposition Coloniale, in 1889, the Parisian Exposition Universelle also had presented a Village Nègre (Negro Village) at the foot of the then brand-new Eiffel tower. The exhibition was visited by 28 million people.

Exposition Universelle, Paris 1889 – Kanak village.

As the major attraction it displayed 400 indigenous people from the French colonies. Ten Kanaks were ‘invited’ and put on display. In the Parisian show these men and women were directed to live ‘spontaneously’ all day long in a poor makeover of their huts. They  had to carry out their daily tasks under public scrutiny and perform ‘tribal rituals’.

‘Le Monde Illustré’, July 27, 1889. Kanak Village Esplanade des Invalides – illustrated by Louis Tinayre.

‘Civilised’ visitors, could get a glimpse of what was believed to be the true culture of these ‘savages’. One was even allowed to touch the Kanaks on display. Humiliatingly, these first Kanak people in France were considered as primitives, even cannibals — surely they were not French citizens.

As part of the show the Kanak men routinely performed the Pilou-Pilou, a traditional tribal dance. See the engraving on the cover of the exhibition’s weekly: the three man dance beneath banners and medallion of the French Republic. Colonial soldiers are standing guard to protect the sophisticated spectators against the barbarians who ferociously wave their war hammers. It is no surprise that popular imagery was soon invaded by the prejudice of cruel black warriors, gesticulating to the diabolic rhythm, whistles and strident cries of the Pilou-Pilou dance.

Have a look at this document, filmed by an amateur in 1943. 

The pilou-pilou dance has a deep-rooted ancestral tradition with a powerful symbolic significance. Each pilou-pilou tells a particular story, whether of a birth, marriage, great battle or even of the arrival of the French missionaries who are said to have given the dance its repetitive name. It traditionally involves many people moving together, sometimes for hours at a time so that the dancers occasionally reach a trance-like state. The French authorities and Catholic priests considered the dance as  indecent and at some point seemed fit to prohibit it.
Re-reading this, we somewhat fear that our attempt at sketching the original pilou dance and the complex history of the Kanak people is a simplified amalgam of what we’ve read, and probably also suffers from stereotype vision, but well, that is the price we pay when writing a blog instead of an ethnological essay.

In 1907, the Parisian Bal Tabarin created a white version of the Pilou-Pilou. At that time the Bal Tabarin was still owned by Auguste Bosc, yes the publisher of the sheet music above. He asked Justin Clérice, uncle of illustrator Victor, to write its music and a certain Eugenio to choreograph simple but cheery dance movements. Clérice’s music has nothing to do with the rhythm of the pilou percussion. It is a slow oom-pah march with a lot of brass. The dance also is but a feeble reflection from the original choreography. It has a risqué movement when the woman slaps the man slightly on the cheek (fig. 8) and a climax when all the dancers cry four times ‘Pilou Pilou‘ very fast and in unison (fig. 10). Great moment of merriment, indeed! However, Justin Clérice’s Pilou-Pilou is as far removed from the original as the Chicken Dance is disconnected from the Swan Lake.

Nowadays in New Caledonia, the pilou-pilou is danced to mark ceremonial occasions: births, weddings and funerals and mostly performed for tourists sake.

The Rugby Club from Toulon has its very own battle cry chanted by packed stadiums and also called Pilou-Pilou. The lyrics suggests that the song has its origin in the Kanak version: ‘The great white coconut trees’ hardly evokes a city in France, does it?

Ah! We the terrible warriors of Pilou-Pilou
Pilou-Pilou!
Who descend from the Mountain to the Sea
Pilou-Pilou!
With our dishevelled women nursing our children
In the shade of the great white coconut trees
Pilou-Pilou!
We terrible warriors push our terrible war cry
AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!
I said “OUR TERRIBLE CRY OF WAR”!
AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!
Because TOULON
RED!
Because TOULON
BLACK!
Because TOULON
RED AND BLACK ! 

Undoubtedly, you are now ready to hear the ceremonious singing battle between Haka and Pilou-Pilou.

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.