Category Archives: Paris

De Valerio and Foujita

A Montparnasse! A Montparno!‘ music by Sylviano, illustrated by Roger de Valerio, 1929

For this song about Montparnasse the French illustrator Roger de Valerio sketched a portrait of the person who was the quintessence of Montparnassian nightlife in the Twenties: the Japanese painter Foujita. He was a hipster avant la lettre, tatooed, with earrings and easily recognisable by his tortoiseshell glasses and straight fringe. Foufou, as he was referred to, was an eccentric who made his own clothes and sometimes adorned his haircut with a lampshade claiming it was his national headdress.

Tsuguharu Foujita, 1886-1968

Foujita was a womanizer and according to the song performed by Marie Dubas and Pizella, women flocked to the Montparnasse bars (La Rotonde, Le Dôme, La Coupole) to admire Foufou’s two rings and his brush stroke.

A Montparnasse! A Montparno!
Tout’s les femm’s ont l’coeur qui bat
Pour l’étrange Foujita
A Montparnasse! A Montparno!
Ell’s admir’nt sa tignasse
Ses deux p’tits anneaux
Ell’s veul’nt tout’s, c’est rigolo
Connaître son coup d’pinceau
A Montparnasse! A Montparno!

A. Harlingue – Foujita and Youki, 3 square Montsouris, Paris, 1926

The smoking woman on the sheet music cover next to Foujita, is probably Youki (Lucie Badoud) with whom Foujita was married at that time (1929). But Youki already had a love interest in the poet Robert Desnos, her later husband. Foujita, who was broadminded and aware of his wife’s relationship with Desnos, tattooed a mermaid on Youki’s thigh and a bear on Desnos’ arm to strengthen their connection. Roger De Valerio, being a good friend of Robert Desnos, must have frequented the same crowd and probably knew Foujita. De Valerio was the most prolific illustrator of sheet music in France, but still nothing can be found about his life. We intend to make amends to this scandalous lack in our following posts…

Robert Doisneau, Youki Desnos showing off the siren tatooed on her leg by Foujita, around 1950 © Atelier Robert Doisneau

Montparnasse was the heart of intellectual and artistic life in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. If Kiki de Montparnasse was the queen, Foujita was the king amidst the countless writers, artists and personalities frequenting the bohemian Left Bank. I scanned the net for contemporary documentary films of Montparnasse. I found two and of course Foujita makes his cameo appearance in both.

The first is an experimental short film by Eugene Deslaw dated 1929. At around 12:30 you get a glimpse of the car (a Ballot) that was a birthday present to Foufou’s 21-year-old bride Youki. The camera zooms in on the bronze miniature of Rodin’s Man with a Broken Nose, fixed on the hood. Then appears Foujita smoking a cigarette.

The second film is a short documentary. At around 0:54 Foujita is announced as a ‘well-known painter of women‘. We see him walking down a Montparnasse street in kimono, and later at work: smoking while he draws a portrait of Kiki de Montparnasse.

Man with a broken nose by Rodin

Talking About Chatterboxes

Chatterbox Polka, sheet music cover illustrated by Brandard
Chatterbox Polka‘, by Hermann Koenig, published by Jullien & Co (London, s.d.), illustrated by Brandard.

The British used to sing about almost everything. Even about chatterboxes. The two girls on the cover above, apparently liked their bit of gossip. But so did the French ladies on the cover for the Polka des Commères (commère being the French word for gossip).

Polka des Commères, sheet music cover illustrated by Laporte
Polka des Commères‘ by Gabriel Allie,r published by Philippo (Paris, s.d.), illustrated by Laporte.

The French have another beautiful word for a chatterbox: une pipelette.

Bonjour Madame Pipelet, cover illustrated by Pousthomis
A nice looking pipelette on the cover of ‘Bonjour Madame Pipelet‘ by Albert Grimaldi (Paris, s.d.), illustrated by Pousthomis
Mme. Pipelet millionaire, petit format sheet music cover
A not so nice looking pipelette: ‘Madame Pipelet Millionnaire‘ by Victor Robillard, published by P. Tralin (Paris, s.d.), illustrated by… (Can someone identify this illustrator?)

The French word pipelette (feminine) or pipelet (masculine) comes from a character in the novel Les Mystères de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris) by Eugène Sue (1804-1857). Madame Pipelet is the wife of a caretaker. She talks too much and has an unhealthy interest in other peoples private lives. The word pipelet(te) is now used to indicate a caretaker or concierge and by extension a chatterbox or a gossip.

Eugène Sue himself introduces Madame Anastasie Pipelet as follows:
‘When Rodolphe ventured into this den, Monsieur Pipelet, the porter, momentarily absent, was represented by Madame Pipelet: seated near an iron stove which was in the middle of the room, she appeared to be listening to the boiling of the pot. The French Hogarth, Henri Monnier, has so admirably stereotyped la portière that we will content ourselves by begging the reader, if he wishes to figure to himself Madame Pipelet, to recall to his mind the most wrinkled, the most pimpled, the most niggardly, the most ragged, the most quarrelsome, the most venomous of portières immortalized by this eminent artist.’

Thankfully the Bibliothèque Nationale satisfies our curiosity and shows us Monnier’s portière for what she is: ready to quarrel!

Le roman chez la portière, illustration by Lhéritier
Le roman chez la portière, sketch by Henry Monnier and Gabriel : portrait of Jules Brasseur / drawing by Lhéritier (1809-1885)

Le Train des Maris

train des maris011
Le Train des Maris‘ by Georges Bolle & Ludivic Turquet, published by Union Musicale (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Charles Biqual.

With the development of railways in the second half of the 19th century, the upper and middle classes started to enjoy the summer  at the seaside. Women and children could stay for one or two months while the husbands joined them each weekend.

Every Saturday evening, after work, a train full of happy husbands departed direction coast and returned back on Monday morning. These express trains from Paris or Brussels to and fro the North Sea resorts were called trains des maris (husband trains). In Germany it was the Ehemännerzug which brought the husbands from Berlin to the Baltic Sea and back again.

train des maris2

On the naive Parisian trade card above two men buy their tickets, first class of course, for the train des maris.

According to the Figaro there also existed ‘trains des amants’ or lover trains – so very French! On Monday morning these trains brought the young men from the cities to the ‘lonely’ married wives at the resorts. They returned home on Saturday morning before the arrival of the husbands…

The Belgian artist Félicien Rops made an amusing etching of a train des maris: a wife and her lover are seen kissing, behind huge and symbolic horns while in the distance the horn-bearing train takes her husband on his way.

Digital Capture

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Charles Biqual depicts the horned cows in the foreground of the sheet music cover, do you?


Anyway, some women seemed very cheerful when the train des maris had left, as illustrated by Herouard for La Vie Parisienne.