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The pleasure of Cabarets, Dance-halls and Ballrooms

"Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère", Edouard Manet, 1881/82 - Courtauld Institute, Londres | Cabarets, guinguettes et bals | Vie sociale | De boire en savoir-boire | Vin et Peinture | Le Musée Virtuel du Vin


Edouard Manet (1832-1883) 


Courtauld Institute, London


Edouard Manet takes us to the Folies-Bergère. The writer Joris-Karl Huysmans, an art critic known for his outspokenness, acknowledged this painting of the bar as “certainly the most modern and interesting that this Salon [the official Salon of 1882] has to offer.” A hybrid mix of café, concert and theater, the Folies-Bergère played host to a shady clientele who drank, smoked, chatted, joked and wandered continually around the venue, from hall to arcade and from bar to auditorium. The bar made available many different alcohols, including champagne, a tried-and-tested symbol of parties and pleasure.

“The fashionable people were as attached as ever to the sparkling wine that they couldn’t turn down. They were on top of the world. Eliane de Pougy, Cléo de Mérode, Caroline Otéro and Emilie d'Alençon quaffed champagne offered to them by the grands-ducs in the bar of the Folies-Bergère, hotspot of venal love.” The aspect of this painting which most attracted comment by critics was the reflection in the mirror of Suzon, an employee. The reflection is not accurate in terms of the young woman’s position or that of the man opposite her, who is standing so close that realistically he would be blocking the spectator’s view. It is hard to say whether this is on purpose or an error on the part of the artist, something which amused Huysmans. He described with delectation the manner in which the painting “stupefies visitors, who press forward and swap disorientated comments on this canvas mirage.”

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2-3. The cabarets of the 16th and 17th centuries were either establishments selling “by the pot or by the pint” to passing customers, who drank standing at the bar or took their wine away; or cabarets à assiette, bars where customers ate and drank around tables. In Paris, cabaret wines were cheap, coming from the Orléans, Gâtin or Brie regions. Prostitutes, lute players, fortune tellers and pickpockets were to be found alongside courtesans and youths. Such scenes are portrayed by Bartolomeo Manfredi and Philippe de Champaigne.


6-7. In the countryside, the cabaret was a Sunday treat after a week of hard labour and self-denial: there was nothing like abandoning oneself to the various pleasures of wine, games and dancing to forget the troubles of everyday life, as Gillis Van Tilborgh et Adriaen Jansz van Ostade show. They plunge us into scenes of rural life, where any excuse for a party will do.


9. Dance-halls appeared at the gates of Paris, Lyon and Metz towards the middle of the 18th century, and multiplied wherever excise duties had become exorbitantly high. “They allowed wine to flow in the Parisian region, since merchants could not buy and import it themselves.” Au Tambour Royal, Ramponneau’s first cabaret, quickly became one of the most prized entertainment spaces in western Paris. Amateurish frescoes represented the manager as Bacchus riding a barrel, or sandwiched between ‘Love’ and ‘Glory’, with his motto, “Monoye fait tout” [“Money does all”], and the following verses: “Voyez la France accourir au tonneau, Qui sert de trône à monsieur Ramponneau” [“Watch France running to the barrel / Which serves as the throne of Monsieur Ramponneau”]. Ramponneau sold wine at three sous per pint – one sou less than his counterparts at the barrière de La Courtille – whereas any type of wine, even the most basic Orleans wine, sold for twelve to fifteen sous in Paris itself. The resulting situation was only to be expected: an extraordinary number of customers inside and out – people would even queue to go in! The painting, completed by Fichel in 1877, is a reconstruction of the glory days of the establishment, when its owner moved the premises from La Courtille to Belleville aux Pecherons. Here he repeated the exercise, this time with white wine at three to three and a half sous per pint, again outpricing his competitors, who charged four and a half. The wine was the same both times, a guinguet (from the French for ‘jig’), a pale wine from the Paris region. People would sing: “Vive le vin de Ramponneau, C’est du nectar en perce!” [“Long live the wine of Ramponneau / It’s nectar in a barrel!”]. The main room of the original restaurant, expanded in 1778, could hold 600 people – market gardeners, carters, workers... – but also female aristocrats (such as Madame de Genlis, who spoke of the dancehall in her memoirs) who came for the thrill disguised as common women. The dancehalls were a place of consumption, fun and pleasure. Dodging the taxman may well have been part of the fun!

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2. The guinguettes existed in another form after the Revolution, but moved to the banks of the Seine (see Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir) or the Marne. One of Auguste Renoir’s most famous paintings shows the Bal du Moulin de la Galette (Musée d’Orsay). When Dutch painters such as Jan Steen and Adriaen Jansz van Ostade painted their scenes of popular rejoicing, they searched especially for ‘characteristic’ figures. With scenes of sophisticated parties, Rococo painters like Watteau and Nicolas Lancret expressed their dream of a carefree, elegant life. Renoir gives us little of either. He enjoys showing us his characters’ mannerisms and conjures up a charming celebratory atmosphere. We discover a public ball; it is Sunday afternoon and the weather is fine. A joyful crowd of people from all levels of society share in the fun, dancing on the left, chatting on the right, smoking and drinking. The atmosphere is lively and joyful and, as in Luncheon of the Boating Party, wine plays an important part.

7, 20 and 21. The Bal Tabarin was a Parisian cabaret located at the foot of the Montmartre hill. Founded in 1904, it quickly became the meeting-place of Parisian society and its artists.



8. Boldini depicts here the Moulin-Rouge shortly after its opening in 1889; the establishment soon became a centre of Parisian nightlife.  


13-14. It’s Au Lapin Agile, a cabaret situated on the Montmartre hill. Founded in the second half of the 19th century and bought by Aristide Bruant in 1913, it was one of the preferred meeting-places of artistic bohemians of the early 20th century: from Max Jacob to Pablo Picasso, passing by Roland Dorgelès, Francis Carco, Blaise Cendrars and Pierre MacOrlan.


Alcoolique dès l’adolescence, Maurice Utrillo, fils de Suzanne Valadon et du peintre catalan Miquel Utrillo, est un client assidu du cabaret, dont il fait, tout au long de sa carrière, un des motifs récurrents de sa peinture. Il peint de préférence directement sur le motif ou, pendant ses cures de désintoxication, d’après des cartes postales. Sa vision du Paris de la Butte, empreinte de réalisme coloré, demeure pittoresque et conventionnelle, malgré les variations de saisons et de perspectives. Ici, cette vue du coin de la rue Saint-Vincent, ponctuée de silhouettes imprécises, vues de dos, seuls indices de présence humaine dans ce paysage hivernal, austère et dénudé, a un caractère misérabiliste propre à l’œuvre d’Utrillo (Source : Collection art moderne - La collection du Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne , sous la direction de Brigitte Leal, Paris, Centre Pompidou, 2007).


14. The start of the 20th century marked an important step in the relationship between women and champagne: the Belle Époque. During this period, the ‘king of wines’ and the fair sex were brought together. Champagne was not drunk for its taste, or to alter one’s perceptions, but because it was the symbol of joie de vivre. A wave of female ‘champagne debauchery’ occurred among fashionable cosmopolitans in France and elsewhere. Champagne flowed in the “Monico”, where the noise was deafening, with the clatter of high heels, men’s heavy footsteps and loud music.  Champagne “gave women an amazing verve”. Gino Severini’s canvas was painted from memory after the disappearance of his 1909-1911 work.


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Technique picturale (au même titre que la fresque ou la peinture de chevalet), l'enluminure est reine au cours du Moyen-Age. Exécutée à la main, elle décore ou illustre un texte, généralement un manuscrit. Si jusqu'au XIIème siècle les manuscrits sont copiés dans les établissements ecclésiastiques, principalement les abbayes, où ils servent à célébrer le culte et à nourrir la prière et la méditation ; à partir du XIIIème, un artisanat et un marché laïcs se développent avec l'essor de l'université et des administrations et l'émergence d'un nouveau public amateur de livres.

Find out more: Wine in Illuminations, From Drinking to Savoir-boire  >>


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