La Samaritaine

Devant la Samaritaine‘ by Gangloff, published by Delormel, Paris and illustrated by Faria.

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.

The deparment store La Samaritaine and Pont Neuf in Paris before 2005.

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.

Entrance to the Bains de la Samaritaine, ca 1900.
Bains de la Samaritaine, ca 1865-1870.

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.

pompe samaritaine
The Pont Neuf with the building containing ‘La Samaritaine’ pump. Oil painting by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1777. Musée Carnavalet, 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.

A view of the Bains de la Samaritaine on the Seine near the Pont Neuf by Charles Soulier, ca 1860.

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.

baignoire plan
Plan of a boat with public baths in Rouen, 1762 . Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime.

The Bains de la Samaritaine disappeared in 1919. They were sunk by a flood of the Seine.

The flood of the Seine in January 1919: the Bains de la Samaritaine inundated. Bibliothèque Nationale de France

We wonder if the angler on the following picture is hoping, like Paulus, for a flash of female nudity.

Angler fishing in the Seine next to Les Bains de la Samaritaine, ca 1900.

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
Je me dis …crédu Quel tableau
Ca vaut mieux que de regarder dans l’eau.

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