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L’art de la caricature

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Ségolène Le Men

Caricature et société

Avant-Garde Anti-Modernism : Caricature and Cabaret Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Montmartre

Neil McWilliam

Texte intégral

  • 1 . The modern literature on Montmartre cabaret culture is extensive, and can only be briefly indicat (...)

1In the cultural history of Belle Epoque Paris, few institutions enjoy greater n prominence, and a more picturesque reputation, than the «cabarets artistiques» which flourished in and around Montmartre in the 1880s and 90s. Thanks, in part, to the indulgence with which former habitués recalled the freedom and vitality of the «butte» in the fin-de-siècle, clubs such as Rodolphe Salis’s Chat noir and Aristide Bruant’s Le Mirliton have been celebrated as the birthplace of a distinctively modern outlook towards literature and the visual arts1.

  • 2 .Jerrold E., Bohemian Paris : Culture, Politics and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life 1830 - 1930, N (...)
  • 3 .Maurice, Autour du Chat noir, Paris, Grasset, 1926, p. 43.

2Considerable emphasis has been placed on the ironic mockery of bourgeois society cultivated within the cabarets and in the texts and caricatures through which their subversive humor reached a broader public. Historians have emphasized the playful indifference of Montmartre cabaret culture towards the outside world, seeing the prose and imagery of journals such as Le Chat noir as essentially free-floating and self-referential in their comic rejection of prevailing aesthetic norms and social values. Jerrold Siegel, for example, has described fin-de-siècle Montmartre as a «locus of ambivalence» characterized by «political indeterminacy», while art historian Philip Denis Cate has encapsulated the world of the cabarets as «an avant-garde state of mind2». Although Cate has acknowledged the political tensions concealed beneath this apparently carefree surface, in common with many scholars he largely concurs with Montmartre veterans such as the writer Maurice Donnay who asserts somewhat anachronistically, in his 1926 memoir Autour du Chat noir, «nous ne pensions pas à la guerre, ni au bolchévisme; nous ne pensions qu’à l’amour3».

  • 4 .Émile, Dix Ans de Bohème, Paris, À la Librairie illustrée, p. 95.

3This essentially anodyne image of Montmartre as a haven of good humor and spirited artistic experimentation owes much to the notion of «fumisme», popularized by the pot Émile Goudeau and the band of students and aspiring artists who formed the short-lived literary group the «Hydropathes» which met in a café off the Boulevard Saint-Michel in 1878. Transplanted to the right bank, and nurtured by Goudeau’s appointment as editor for the Chat noir’s house journal in 1882, «fumisme» is generally identified with a sense of relaxed, good-natured buffoonery. Such a perspective overlooks a darker side, however, pointed up in Goudeau’s description of «fumisme» as «une sorte de dédain de tout, de mépris en dedans pour les êtres et les choses4».

4The mythologization of Montmartre has done much to conceal a powerful current of xenophobia, anti-semitism and saber-rattling which suggests that the «butte» was much less insulated from the political conflicts of the Belle Époque than commentators such as Siegel would suggest. It neglects, too, the profound ambivalence which characterizes the «cabarets» attitude towards modern metropolitan culture. Indeed, one of the most striking aspects of publications such as Le Chat noir and Le Courrier français is the disdain they affect towards Paris as a financial and trading centre. Identifying the city with cosmopolitanism and materialism, many stalwarts of the «cabarets artistiques» took refuge in a nostalgic celebration of a pre-capitalist national culture ostensibly more attuned to the native spirit of virile libertarianism.

  • 5 . For a survey of these issues, see the essays in Nationalism and French Visual Culture 1871-1914, (...)

5Historians anxious to advance Montmartre’s avant-garde credentials have typically focused upon such aspects as the Chat noir’s shadow theatre and the Courrier français’s promotion of illustrators such as Aubrey Beardsley and Jules Chéret. In doing so, the profoundly conservative nature of much cabaret culture, and its equally conservative ideological connotations, have been significantly overlooked. It has proved all too easy for commentators to interpret the highlycolored rhetoric of figures such as Salis and Goudeau as self-consciously provocative bombast, designed to shock a metropolitan audience seduced by the alterity of bohemian Montmartre. At the same time, however, it is clear that some of the key figures in the marketing of Montmartre nurtured highly ambivalent feelings towards the political institutions and economic relations which had developed under parliamentary republicanism. Identifying such views in terms of familiar polarities of left and right is immensely difficult in the shifting and unfamiliar terrain of fin-de-siècle political dissent. The combination of nationalism and populism could just as easily proclaim its socialist credentials as any overtly conservative affiliation5. At its heart, however, is a belligerent nativism which provided the bedrock of much for the cultural output of Montmarte’s cabarets and the publications that brought their work to a wider national audience.

6Writing in the short-lived journal La Butte in 1892, the pseudonymous columnist Butor establishes a clear cultural and ideological contrast between the base materialism of the metropolis and the potically French spirit of Montmartre:

  • 6 . «Autour de La Butte», in La Butte, n° 1, 30 juin 1892.

Réunis par le même sentiment d’horreur pour les fâcheux et les imbéciles, et par le même désir de fuir les bas-fonds empoisonnés et corrompus de l’agiotage et de la finance, les poètes, les artistes, tous les «caresseurs» de l’idéal, ont choisi pour réfuge préféré les hauteurs escarpées de cette pittoresque colline, qui s’appelle La Butte Montmartre. [...] À Montmartre, vous trouverez encore cette franche et exubérante gaité, exempte de pose et de pédantisme, vous entendez les joyeux éclats de ce bon rire gaulois qui caractérisait nos ancêtres: les parisiens le savent bien et c’est à Montmartre que tous, jeunes et vieux, sans distinction de sexe non plus de profession, viennent chercher, au milieu de cette jeunesse aimante et joyeuse, une diversion à leur sempiternelle morosité6.

7By the time these lines were written, Montmartre had been trading on its reputation as the home of «ce bon rire gaulois» for over a decade. The vogue for «cabarets artistiques» had taken off with the establishment in November 1881 of the Chat noir in premises on the boulevard de Rochechouart. Its proprietor, Rodolphe Salis, a failed painter from Châtellerault, quickly established a reputation for his humorous monologues and outrageous mockery of the clientèle. His success spawned a bewildering array of often ephemeral imitators and turned Montmartre into the focus of a commercialized bohemianism which thrived in such settings as Aristide Bruant’s club Le Mirliton, established in 1885, and Jules Sarrazin’s Le Divan japonais, which opened for business three years later. Salis also set a trend with the journal he established under Goudeau’s editorship in January 1882, but he was unmatched in the array of pots, satirists and caricaturists he was able to attract both as contributors to the publication and as performers in his cabaret.

  • 7 . On Roques, seeMichel, «Roques», in Les Hommes d’aujourd’hui, n° 411 (n. d., c. 1892) and Archives (...)

8Salis’s irascible manner provoked defections and rivalries, however. Goudeau abandoned his erstwhile partner in March 1884 and joined the pot Georges Fragerolles the following year in establishing a short-lived rival, Le Chat botté. Similar undertakings, together with the proliferation of comic titles such as Adolphe Willette’s Le Pierrot, consolidated Montmartre’s reputation as a haven of pleasure and good humor. Such publications extended Montmartre’s reach far beyond the confines of the Butte. By November 1884, Le Chat noir had a weekly print-run of 15 000 copies. During the same year its writers and artists reached an even larger audience with the establishment of Le Courrier français, a periodical whose judicious mix of fiction, caricature, eroticism, and reviews of cabarets and theatrical productions enjoyed substantial success down to the First World War. The magazine was established by Jules Roques, a publicity agent, impresario and editor, whose proclaimed socialist commitments attracted considerable interest from the police and substantial mistrust on the left, where he was suspected as an agent provocateur and a clandestine supporter of the nationalist General Boulanger7. Recruiting caricaturists such as Steinlen, Willette and Caran d’Ache, who had established their reputation on the Butte, Roques brought bohemian Montmartre into contact with the raffish world of the «grands boulevards» and their less esoteric pleasures. Bohemia was itself clearly becoming big business, and in June 1885 Salis abandoned the Chat noir’s cramped quarters on the boulevard de Rochechouart for more luxuriously appointed premises on the rue de Laval.

  • 8 .John, Raphaël et Gambrinus ou l’Art dans la brasserie Paris, Louis Westhausser, 1886. p. 92. Wille (...)
  • 9 . See, for example, the work as reproduced on the cover of Paul Delmet’s Nouvelles Chansons (1895), (...)

9Visitors to the new Chat noir, open to customers between 1885 and 1897, were greeted by a sign above the door bidding them «Passant, sois moderne». Upon entering the building, they encountered a décor which seemed to be anything but. A heterogeneous assemblage of furnishings, redolent of the «maladie du Moyen Âge» condemned by John Grand-Carteret in Raphael et Gambrinus, his 1886 study of café interiors, announced a fairly familiar equation between masculine sociability and a cozy historicism. Seated in the main bar on the ground floor, clients could admire an elaborate stained glass window by Adolphe Willette, described by Grand-Carteret as a «curieux mélange de souvenirs, d’ornements classiques et de conceptions modernes8» [Fig. 1]. Variously entitled Le Veau d’or or Te Deum Laudamus, the work represents a critique of modern materialism, embodied in the Golden Calf - «Israël» - which dominates the centre of the composition. Sitting on a safe with a guillotine behind, the calf watches indifferently as a mother strangles her child in a fit of desperation. To the right, Potry serenades the Calf, oblivious to the poor cripple grasping her legs; a modern monarch, often recognized as a Jewish capitalist, symbolizes power and grasps the hand of a dancer who carries Willette’s head on a platter, like Salome. On the right, a nude symbolizing Innocence is violated by a black cat, while a group of workers attacks the Golden Calf. In a number of versions, as here, the composition is completed with the figure of a Jew pouring over his money oblivious to the chaos which surrounds him9.

Fig. 1: Adolphe Willette, «Le Veau d’or.» As illustrated in Feu Pierrot (1919).

  • 10 .Julien, Sous les tentes de Japhet, Paris, L. Genonceaux, 1890, p. 170.

10Willette is evidently concerned here with the corrupting power of money, a power associated with the metropolis with which Montmartre had sustained an uneasy relationship since its incorporation into the city boundaries in 1860. Yet his window evokes more than bohemian anti-capitalism. Its anti-semitic connotations emerge starkly in a version produced to illustrate a long pom by Émile Goudeau, «Israël à la Bourse», published in the Courrier français in 1886, and praised for its «bel et bon antisémitisme» by Julien Mauvrac in a survey of contemporary anti-semitism published in 189010 [Fig. 2, ci-contre].

  • 11 .. [Émile Goudeau], «politique du Chat noir», in Le Chat noir, n° 47, 2 décembre 1882, 1 and n° 46, (...)

11Indeed both Goudeau and Willette had given ample evidence of their views in the Chat noir and elsewhere since the early 1880s. In 1882, for example, Goudeau had written of «la Patrie menacée par les Juifs», and had proclaimed «les juifs ont pour Jérusalem Paris et règnent sur la terre11». Similar sentiments recur in Willette’s cartoons published in early issues of Le Courrier français, most strikingly in Les Juifs et la semaine sainte, published in 1885 [Fig. 3, page 258]. Here, a Jewish capitalist leads a parade from the Bourse accompanied by an effigy of the Golden Calf, while in the background a naked woman sacrifices a baby before a crucifix. The image is accompanied by a violently anti-semitic caption, which reads in part:

Fig. 2: Adolphe Willette, «Israël à la Bourse», in Le Courrier français, 28 mars 1886.

  • 12 .Adolphe, «Juifs et la semaine sainte», in Le Courrier français, n° 14, 5 avril 1885, p. 4-5.

Et dire qu’on a fait 93 pour la conquête des libertés civiques, guillotiné des aristocrates qui somme toute étaient de sang français, pour retomber aujourd’hui et être écrasé sous cette force brutale et hideuse: la puissance de l’argent juif. -À quand le 93 de la race juive12 ?

  • 13 . See, for example, Floux Jean, «Revanche», in Le Chat noir n° 298, 24 septembre 1887, p. 986, an a (...)
  • 14 . On Émile Cohl, seeDonald, Émile Cohl, Caricature and Film, Princeton, 1990, p. 60-63. The role of (...)
  • 15 . Anonymous, «Fin d’un monde», n° 357, 17 novembre 1888, 1226, a review of Drumont’s book of the sa (...)
  • 16 . As illustrated in Le Courrier français n° 20, 16 mai 1886, p. 5.

12Such sentiments, which surface in the works of several artists and writers contributing to the Chat noir and the Courrier français, are all the more striking since they appear regularly in the years before the publication of Édouard Drumont’s notorious anti-semitic diatribe La France juive in 1886. Drumont himself won a sympathetic hearing in both journals13, and a number of leading Montmartre celebrities, including the cartoonists Willette, Émile Cohl and Henri de Saint-Alary, contributed regularly to his anti-semitic weekly, La Libre Parole illustrée, in the early 1890s14. For an anonymous reviewer writing in Le Chat noir in 1888, Drumont was nothing less than «un Français, éternel défenseur de l’opprimé15», credentials confirmed by Willette in his portrayal of the muckraking polemicist as a dashing crusader trampling a prone figure of Moses16.

Fig. 3 : Adolphe Willette, «Les Juifs et la semaine sainte», in Le Courrier français, 5 avril 1885.

  • 17 . introduction toArthur, «Saint-Gothard», in Le Chat noir, n° 25, 1er juilleet 1882, p. 2. Givierge (...)
  • 18 . Jules «Valmy», in Le Courrier français, n° 35, 28 août 1892, p. 4.

13Though both journals explicitly rejected any interest in politics, this persistent current of anti-capitalism and anti-semitism reveals a more pervasive critique of contemporary France found in cabaret culture. Revanchiste sentiments, for example, figure prominently in the cabaret’s vocal repertoires as well as in many publications, which are fiercely patriotic. In an early number of Le Chat noir, for example, «Patria» writes : «nous blaguons tous les sentiments quelconques, mais nous nous inclinons quand le drapeau national se trouve en jeu17», while Rocques claimed of the Courrier français : «s’il aime des femmes et le bon vin, il place, au-dessus de tout, la patrie18 !»

  • 19 . See Jules «Une Statue de Lazare Carnot à Paris», in Le Courrier français, n° 43, 21 octobre 1888, (...)
  • 20 . An early instance of such a stance is exemplified in a cartoon by Rodolphe «Revanche», in Le Chat (...)

14The nation’s martial tradition was celebrated in patriotic songs and in numerous visual evocations of the army through the ages. Indeed, in 1888 the Courrier français sponsored a competition for a statue commemorating the revolutionary general Lazare Carnot, grandfather of the recently-elected President of the Republic, who was credited with saving the nation from invasion in 179219. Both Le Chat noir and Le Courrier français were stridently anti-German, and also display a strong current of anti-British feeling over colonial rivalries. Persistent baiting of Germany led both publications to be banned by authorities in Germany and Alsace-Lorraine20.

  • 21 . SeeÉmile, «politique du Chat noir», in Le Chat noir, n° 59, 24 février 1883, 1-2, part of a large (...)

15This militarism was tempered by a nagging sense that the nation was incapable of overcoming its enemies because of internal weakness epitomized by the instability and corruption of parliamentary republicanism. A common theme amongst nationalists on left and right, these misgivings are echod by figures such as Salis and Goudeau, both of whom openly dismiss the democratic system for condemning France to permanent impotence. For Goudeau, Darwinian theory clearly pointed to the need for a strict demarcation of roles within society, rooted in a natural disparity of talents which parliamentary democracy ignored at its peril. Since 1848, he claimed, the country had been in thrall to the mob, and desperately required the firm grip of a dominant leader capable of galvanizing France’s dormant martial spirit21. His prejudices were echod with chilling economy by Adolphe Willette in his notorious cover for the Courrier français of December 1887, «Je suis la sainte démocratie. J’attends mes amants». Here, popular sovereignty is equated not only with the internecine slaughter of 1793, but also with a corrupt and debilitating sexuality which saps the nation’s fiber by soliciting the tribute of its basest elements [Fig. 4].

Fig. 4 : Adolphe Willette, «Je suis la Sainte Démocratie», in Le Courrier français, 4 décembre 1887.

  • 22 . See, for example, the cover illustration of Boulanger as virile military leader, «l’âge de boue, (...)
  • 23 . Gabriel Terrail], «Mars !», in Le Courrier français, n° 12, 24 March 1889, 3.

16Such beliefs provided fertile ground for the campaign spearheaded by former Minister of War, General Georges Boulanger, who emerged as the head of an alliance of nationalist malcontents in 1886. Willette himself, though sometimes considered unsympathetic to Boulanger’s cause, presented the General as heralding a salutary reaction against the moral and material corruption of the Republic22. The general’s appeal, though rooted in the promise of military revival, was also boosted by his pledge to challenging what one of his leading lieutenants, and a Montmartre stalwart, Gabriel Terrail described in the Courrier français as the «indigne aristocratie des gens d’argent23». In this respect, in common with such caricaturists on the journal as Louis Legrand, Henri Pille and Tiret-Bognet, Willette presented Boulanger as an enemy of parliamentary factionalism capable of restoring the nation’s internal strength and international prestige [Fig. 5].

Fig. 5 : Tiret-Bognet, «Gallia Hominem quaerens», in Le Courrier français, 5 juin 1887.

  • 24 . Amongst Mermeix’s articles in support of Boulanger, see «de la semaine», in Le Courrier français,(...)
  • 25 . SeeWilliam D., «, Mass Politics and the Boulanger Affair», in French History, n° 3 (1), 1989, p. (...)

17The journal was also generous in the space it afforded Terrail who, under the pen-name Mermeix, was one of Boulanger’s leading lieutenants. As editor of the Boulangist journal La Cocarde and deputy for the 7 th arrondissement, Mermeix was Boulanger’s firmest advocate in the Montmartre community and used the Courrier français to expose republican corruption in the Wilson affair, an honors scandal centring on the son-in-law of President Jules Grévy24. The collapse of the Boulangist movement with the General’s flight to Brussels in April 1889 provoked sardonic comment on the treachery of political life in the Montmartre press, particularly when Mermeix turned on his erstwhile hero for his clandestine reliance on royalist support in his notorious exposé Les Coulisses du boulangisme of 189025.

  • 26 . See, for example,, «Manifestations boulangistes», in Le Chat noir, n° 329, mai 1888, p. 1114. See (...)

18The impact of Boulangism on the Montmartre community is a complex, indeed shadowy, affair. Boulangism itself represents a watershed in the development of fin-de-siècle nationalism, notably through the way in which it served as a catalyst for certain radical factions to assume an increasingly xenophobic disdain towards parliamentary republicanism. Though a number of prominent figures in Montmartre, such as the pot and chansonnier Jules Jouy, were unrelenting in their opposition to Boulanger26, the General received a warm welcome in the Chat noir, while contemporary reports indicate that audiences in the cabarets artistiques frequently expressed boisterous support for his campaign. In the legislative elections of September 1889, the exiled Boulanger chose the area around Montmartre as the constituency in which to mount his rearguard campaign, while in the neighboring 9 th arrondissement, Adolphe Willette, whose enthusiasm for Boulanger had now cooled, presented himself as a «candidat antisémite».

19Willette’s election poster [Fig. 6, ci-contre], which draws upon imagery he had popularized in the Courrier français, presents the cartoonist armed with a rifle, ready for the struggle evoked in his histrionic appeal to voters. He is flanked by his father-a hero of the Franco-Prussian war-and by a worker, who has smashed a tablet bearing the Talmudic law. National tradition is invoked through the figures of a bare-chested Gaul, brandishing the decapitated head of the Golden Calf, and by a curiously hybrid conflation of Marianne and the Gallic cock, her left arm bearing a black armband as a token of mourning for the humiliated nation. Set against the sinister vignette of a fleeing Jew and the skyline of Paris silhouetted in the distance, Willette’s disparate coalition identifies national revival with the populist rediscovery of native tradition encapsulated in the refrain «Gai ! Gai ! serrons nos rangs/En avant Gaulois et Francs».

  • 27 . Philip G., Paris Shopkeepers and the Politics of Resentment, Princeton, 1986, p. 331.
  • 28 . Adolphe, Feu Pierrot 1857-19 ?, Paris, Floury, 1919, p. 122.

20As historian Philip Nord has pointed out, Boulangist sympathies in Montmartre were partially fueled by a nostalgic hostility towards the emergence of Paris as the centre of a modern, cosmopolitan, capitalist economy. This new world, epitomized by «high finance, ready-to-wear goods and all the symbols of so-called modernity from the Eiffel tower to the Jew27», attracted the disdain of a community which presented the Butte as a last redoubt of traditional French values. Looking back on fin-de-siècle Montmartre in his memoirs, Feu Pierrot, published in 1919, Willette characterized cabaret culture as «une résistance acharnée contre l’invasion de l’esprit étranger28».

Fig. 6 : Adolphe Willette, Election poster, 1889.

  • 29 . See the cartoon by , «Villon, maître perpétuel des poètes de Paris», in Le Chat noir, n° 233, 17 (...)
  • 30 . On the festival and plans to reproduce Jean François Marie Etcheto’s statue of the pot, first exh (...)
  • 31 . See, for example, the cover illustration by L. «Gargantua sur les tours de NotreDame», in Le Cour (...)

21One strategy for countering this influence can be found in the glorification of the national past, which is such a striking feature of fin-de-siècle Montmartre. The pots François Villon and Rabelais, for example, became ubiquitous points of reference, embodying a putative Gallic spirit rooted in freedom, anti-materialism and good humor. Villon, reputed for his defiantly marginal lifestyle, was enthusiastically embraced as a direct forbear of Montmartre bohemianism and celebrated in Le Chat noir as the «maître perpétuel des poètes de Paris29». Salis and Rocques combined forces to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the pot’s birth in 1885, mounting a special festival at the Chat noir and sponsoring the erection of a statue to commemorate a figure whose «vaillante et gauloise franchise30» was said to foreshadow the work of Rabelais, a figure who occupied a privileged place in the annals of Montmartre31.

  • 32 .Michael, Le Commerce de la Bohème, p. 133, notes that Henri Murger, author of the seminal Scènes d (...)
  • 33 . SeeÉmile, «politique du Chat noir», in Le Chat noir n° 55, 27 janvier 1883, p. 1.

22It was the legacy of this tradition, relayed through the bohemian genealogy furnished by Henri Murger32, which was claimed for Montmartre, home of what came to be called with increasing frequency «l’esprit gaulois». This attitude was identified with an anti-materialistic libertarianism, lived out-for men, at any rate-in a regime of easy sociability, sexual freedom, and disregard for status and wealth. Such values were celebrated in the «Abbaye de Thélème», a cabaret on the Place Pigalle, which flourished briefly in 1886 and scandalized polite society by featuring serving staff dressed as monks and nuns. Though clearly a commercial gambit, this initiative responded to the promotion of Rabelais in Montmartre not only as a spiritual antecedent but as an essentially modern temperament attuned to the ambitions and preoccupations of a new generation. Goudeau, writing in the Chat noir in 1883, presents the sixteenth-century cleric as part of a triumvirate, including Darwin and Comte, whose influence indelibly divides contemporary youth from their forebears33, while Terrail sees in Rabelais’earthy humor a desperate attempt to suppress a sense of melancholy all too resonant for a modern audience :

[...] vous êtes un autochtone gaulois. Vous avez la mélancolie de cette race pensive et battue, battue par le légionnaire romain, battue par l’argent du fisc romain, battue par le barbare, battue par le seigneur franc, et qui dissimule ses pensées tristes, ses amertumes, ses rancunes, les révoltes de son esprit et de son âme si fière, dans le vacarme d’une gaité d’orgie, sous une grimace de rire.

  • 34 . Gabriel Terrail], «Chroniques de l’Abbé de Thélème», in Le Courrier français, n° 21, 23 May 1886, (...)

23Terrail’s invocation of Rabelais, constructed around a network of allusive parallels with the present, concludes by affirming the need for a satirical spirit to lead a crusade against the new common enemy : «La Gaule lutte contre l’homme d’argent, qui vient pour remplacer l’homme de fer34.» It is in this militant use of humor as a weapon in defence of an authentic French spirit that Terrail identifies Rabelais’contemporary resonance and condemns his picturesque historicization as a dissipation of his potential power.

  • 35 . On Pille, see, Henri Pille, Château-Thierry, 1898.
  • 36 . See, for example,, «IV», in Le Courrier français, 15 mai 1887; Pille Henri, «», in Le Courrier fr (...)

24Yet, for all of this appeal to satirical tradition as a weapon in contemporary struggle, what is most striking about the invocation of the past in cabaret culture is its soothingly nostalgic quality. Rodolphe Salis, in his long-running series of contes, illuminated by artists such as Steinlen, indulges in a coddievalmedieval prose style such as is explicitly decried by Terrail. Visual representations, too, favor an anodyne evocation of a lost world of prosperity, harmony, and good cheer. The greatest exponent of this genre, and one of Montmartre’s most prolific artists, was Henri Pille, whose work was one of the mainstays of Le Courrier français in the years before his death in 189735. Fastidiously spurning the present, Pille ranges widely across the middle ages and early modern period, embroidering a vision of the nation as a tightly-knit organic community in which easy sociability is presided over, and guaranteed, by the iconic figures of «la douce France», Henri IV and François Rabelais36.

  • 37 . Quoted in., Confidences parisiennes. Mes Entretiens (1887), p. 227.

25Pille’s affinity with the pre-modern world is rooted in an ambivalence towards the present apparently shared by more than a few of his Montmartre colleagues. Willette, for example, is recorded as remarking in 1880 : «Que voulez-vous, je ne puis voir l’humanité autrement qu’à travers des vitraux Moyen Âge; le progrès consiste pour moi à croire au retour de cet âge d’or de l’art37.» In similar vein, Pille himself provided a commentary for a medieval street scene published in Le Chat noir in 1884 :

  • 38 .Henri, «Promenade à Schaffenhouse», in Le Chat noir, n° 137, 23 août 1884, p. 338.

Dans notre siècle d’éléctricité et de tramways, tout s’est uniformisé, rien ne surpasse la ligne droite des toits, la surface plate des façades. Autrefois, on faisait des cathédrales, maintenant ce sont des abattoirs et des gares de chemin de fer qu’on bâtit38.

  • 39 .Octave, «Gaule», in Le Courrier français, Special issue (un-numbered), 24 novembre 1892, p. 6.
  • 40 . SeeMarieVéronique, Chanson, sociabilité et grivoiserie au e siècle, Paris, Aubier, 1992.

26Pille’s other-worldliness was only skin deep, however. In common with other Montmartre stalwarts such as Caran d’Ache and Heidbrinck, he happily turned to the present to celebrate France’s military might, often embellishing verse such as «La Gaule» with its rousing refrain : «Gaule, debout ! / Va, romps ta trêve, / Monte que Brennus n’est pas mort, / Que ta vertu ne fait pas grêve; / Reprends dans la gloire ton rêve / Pourpré de sang et nimbé d’or39 !» [Fig. 7]. This invocation of a Gallic spirit provides a thematic and ideological constant in publications such as the Courrier français and Chat noir, as it did to the cabarets with which they were associated. Allusions to Gaul worked on a number of levels, referring at once to a native spirit currently under threat from cosmopolitan forces rallied by international capital, and to a martial spirit which would eventually restore France’s territorial integrity and international prestige. More immediately, «l’esprit gaulois» also described a capacity for pleasure and sexual license regarded as integral to the native mentality in general and to the spirit of Montmartre in particular. In this regard, the «cabarets artistiques» drew upon a well established tradition within the «sociétés chantantes» that flourished during the first part of the nineteenth century, and within which cheerful obscenity was justified as integral to France’s apparently unrivalled appetite for sensual pleasure inherited from the Gauls40.

Fig. 7 : Henri Pille, «La Gaule», in Le Courrier français, 24 novembre 1892.

27This libertarianism acquired strong ideological overtones in the fin-de-siècle as the impoverished frivolity and romantic freedom associated with Montmartre was contrasted with the venal pleasures and sexual commerce of the metropolitan bourgeoisie. Jules Forain, in particular, furnished an apparently inexhaustible series of cartoons to the Courrier français in which overbearing bourgeois males - often with caricatural semitic features - exploit vulnerable young women in relationships ruthlessly mediated by the power of money. These joyless and mercenary relationships serve as a powerful metaphor for an arid materialism against which the bohemian lifestyle represents an ostensible antithesis. Caricaturists such as Willette specialized in evocations of bohemian eroticism rooted in an allegedly more equitable relationship between virile young artists and alluringly innocent working girls. Sexual license, identified with masculine exuberance in the Gallic tradition, becomes a key ingredient in projecting a native libertarianism complemented in the creative arena by the celebration of artistic freedom.

  • 41 . See, for example,Jules, «», in Le Courrier français, n° 45, 9 novembre 1890,, in which Roques art (...)

28Jules Roques, who in the 1890 legislative elections stood as a «socialiste révolutionnaire», though he was generally disowned by radical elements mistrustful of his political agenda, explicitly equates freedom in the sexual and artistic arenas with national renewal41. His conception of a bohemian ethos rooted in traditions of hedonism and the defence of freedom is encapsulated in a cartoon by Willette, «Comme nos pères», dedicated to Roques and the pot Raoul Ponchon and published on the cover of Le Courrier français dated 13 December 1891. Here, the young postillion, who served as the journal’s emblem, lounges in a state of sensual plenitude, while his half-naked companion, wearing a printer’s paper crown, prepares her rifle with a writer’s quill. Beneath the dedication, the caption reads :

Comme nos pères nous chantions le vin et l’amour...

Comme nos pères nous chantions la poudre et la liberté.

29The liberating lifestyle extoled in the Montmartre press was identified with the «vache enragée», the symbol of poverty in Émile Goudeau’s 1885 novel of the same name, which came to epitomize an anti-materialist libertarianism inspired by authentically French values forfeited in Paris itself with its adoration of the «veau d’or». While the metropolis stood for the values castigated in Willette’s window for the Chat noir, Montmartre’s identification with the «vache enragée» apparently secured ideals essential for its survival as a community of free spirits. As Georges Montorgueil wrote in the the journal La Vache enragée in 1897 :

  • 42 .Georges, «Vache enragée», in La Vache enragée, mai-juin 1897.

Elle est à hautement estimer pour ce qu’elle enseigne à la fois l’esprit de souffrance et de révolte. Elle trempe les énergies, inspire les courages, dompte la mollesse. Elle crée cette association fraternelle de la Bohème si gaie et si libre, d’une fantaisie si primesautière qui, autour et sur La Butte, comme un phalanstère, se développe et fleurit42.

30Yet, there were dissenting voices who felt that the «vache enragée» of Bohemia had succumbed to the «Veau d’or» - to the forces of materialism against which institutions such as the Chat noir were ostensibly pitted. From this perspective, Salis, with his astute commercial sense, was chief villain-a view expressed both by Willette and Goudeau. For Goudeau, writing in the Guide de l’étranger à Montmartre in 1900 :

Alors, Montmartre loin de vouloir se séparer du reste de l’univers prit de conciliantes allures envers Paris; ayant assez dédaigné la richesse, il se tourna vers le Veau d’or, et lui fit des excuses ironiques, lestes et gouailleuses; mais le Veau d’or, qui est très malin, feignit d’accepter comme franches paroles, ces plaisanteries, et il vint à Montmartre couvrir les Artistes, les Poètes, les Musiciens, d’écus sonnants, de pain quotidien, même de smokings et de souliers vernis.

  • 43 .Émile, «Bleu à La Butte» in Guide de l’étranger à Montmartre, Paris, J. Strauss, 1900, p. 7-8.

Les cabarets virent à leurs portes, jadis modestes, la cohue des voitures armoriées, et les banquiers les plus cossus apportèrent leur subside à cet ancien Golgotha, transformé en Gotha des chansons folles43.

  • 44 . SeeHugues [Georges Thiebost], «ouverte à M. Adolphe Willette», in Le Courrier français n° 30, 23 (...)

31The co-option of Bohemia attacked by Goudeau had, as one of its consequences, the displacement of political dissent beyond the Butte. As Montmartre took its place within the burgeoning entertainment industry, so its most strident voices had to make themselves heard in other arenas. It is striking, for example, that the Dreyfus Affair, which famously engaged the energies of such Montmartre stalwarts as Forain, Willette and Caran d’Ache, scarcely figures in the pages of Le Chat noir or the Courrier français. Indeed, a relatively mild sortie by Willette in a cover illustration for the Courrier français in July 1899 provoked a swift rejoinder from a fellow contributor, Georges Thiebost, who accused the artist of breaking an editorial agreement to avoid the Affair altogether44. This is not to say that nationalist polemic was expelled from Montmartre completely-Émile Goudeau, writing a column in the journal Les Quat’z’arts in 1898, was disdainful of Zola’s defense of the disgraced captain, and condemned the burgeoning Dreyfusard movement as an irresponsible betrayal of national interest :

  • 45 .Émile, «», in Les Quat’z’Arts, n° 17, 27 February 1898, p. 2.

Ah ! C’est fort joli d’être cosmopolite, et humanitaire et planétaire, dans un bon salon, à l’heure du five o’clock et d’être l’ami de tous les peuples en mangeant des truffes, tandis qu’en bas, dans la guérite, le soldat veille en armes pour le salut des fortunes, des sonates et des vers libres45.

32In the very heart of Montmartre, the aggressively populist Aristide Bruant regaled customers in his cabaret Le Mirliton with a barrage of anti-semitic songs in early 1898, and stood as an anti-Dreyfusard and anti-semitic candidate in the legislative elections later that year. Yet the most celebrated and sustained contribution to the anti-Dreyfusard campaign by two Montmartre stalwarts, the caricaturists Jules Forain and Caran d’Ache, was conducted away from the established circuits of the Butte and its cabaret culture. The journal Pssst !..., established by the two artists in February 1898, combined a virulent militarism with a withering contempt for the metropolitan intelligentsia whose defense of the exiled officer appeared, as it did for Goudeau, as the treacherous posturings of a self-regarding minority who were in no way properly French.

33Once more, then, Parisian society was called to task for harboring elements which ethnically and ideologically had no place within the spiritual boundaries of true France. Within the equally mythical boundaries of Montmartre, however, the truculent nationalism proclaimed by the likes of Willette and Goudeau was in retreat. By 1899, the Chat noir was closed and Salis, who had sold up six years earlier, was dead. Increasingly, the pleasures of Montmartre were identified with the garishly commercial Moulin Rouge, which had opened its doors in 1889, rather than with the more self-consciously artistic milieu of the cabarets. Here, the carefully-staged packaging of a picturesquely subversive proletarian culture, akin to Bruant’s sinister and sentimentalized vision of «Montmertre», announced a certain modernity while smoothing away the rough edges of the social frictions it implied.

34This is rather different from the notion of modernity elaborated within the pages and upon the stage of the Chat noir and its rivals. The sort of modernity it proposed was necessarily rooted in — indeed, emphatically identified with — the past. Different versions of that past may be evoked, ranging from the middle ages and Renaissance to the Rococo and Romantic periods. What they have in common is the rhetorical contrast they allow with a certain image of modern urban life. That image — cosmopolitan, plutocratic, post-Haussmannian — stands in constant contradistinction to a vision of Frenchness invested in values of virile sociability, freedom, and simplicity. Such values provide the moral pretext for what is an essentially spurious assertion of disengagement from the encroaching materialism of modern society. The gambit, of course, is not an unfamiliar one. Indeed, the fin-de-siècle avant-garde from Gauguin to the Nabis could be seen as similarly transfixed by visions of bygone ages which helped mitigate some of the difficulties experienced in negotiating the market for their work. For the artists and writers of Montmartre, the past served less as a compendium of formal languages to be assumed as a riposte to the harsh tones of metropolitan culture, than as a privileged space within which an image of the nation and its values could be elaborated and sold to a public uncertain of France’s future in the modern world.

Notes

1 . The modern literature on Montmartre cabaret culture is extensive, and can only be briefly indicated here. Amongst the best analyses of the phenomenon are Denis and (ed), The Spirit of Montmartre. Cabarets, Humor and the Avant-Garde 1875-1905, New Brunswick, 1996;Howard G., La Fête aux boulevards extérieurs : Art and Culture in Fin-de-siècle Montmartre, Ph. D. thesis, Harvard University, 1991;Michael L. -J., Le Commerce de bohème. Marginality and Mass Culture in Fin-de-siècle Paris, Ph. D. thesis, Cornell University, 1993; Gabriel P. (ed.), Montmartre and the Making of Mass Culture, New Brunswick, 2001. The critical edition of Émile Goudeau, Dix Ans de Bohème, published by Patrick 2000, is indispensible, as isAndré (dir.), Les Poètes du Chat noir, Paris, Gallimard, 1996. See alsoMichel, La Chanson à Montmartre, Édition La Table ronde, 1967;Mariel, Le Chat noir 1881-1897, «Dossiers du Musée d’Orsay», n° 47, 1992, andCharles, Pleasures of the Belle Époque. Entertainment and Festivity in Turn of the Century France, New Haven, 1985.

2 .Jerrold E., Bohemian Paris : Culture, Politics and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life 1830 - 1930, New York, 1986;Phillip Denis, «Spirit of Montmartre», in The Spirit of Montmartre, p. 19.

3 .Maurice, Autour du Chat noir, Paris, Grasset, 1926, p. 43.

4 .Émile, Dix Ans de Bohème, Paris, À la Librairie illustrée, p. 95.

5 . For a survey of these issues, see the essays in Nationalism and French Visual Culture 1871-1914, andNeil (eds.), in Studies in the History of Art, n° 68, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, 2005, particularly Orfila Jorgelina, «Nationalism, and Incohérence» (ibid., p. 173-193).

6 . «Autour de La Butte», in La Butte, n° 1, 30 juin 1892.

7 . On Roques, seeMichel, «Roques», in Les Hommes d’aujourd’hui, n° 411 (n. d., c. 1892) and Archives de la Préfecture de Police, Dossier Ba 905.

8 .John, Raphaël et Gambrinus ou l’Art dans la brasserie Paris, Louis Westhausser, 1886. p. 92. Willette’s stained-glass window today forms part of the collection of the Musée Carnavalet.

9 . See, for example, the work as reproduced on the cover of Paul Delmet’s Nouvelles Chansons (1895), illustrated inAnd The Spirit of Montmartre, op. cit., p. 15. The color illustration of the window in Grand-Carteret’s Raphaël et Gambrinus dos not include this figure.

10 .Julien, Sous les tentes de Japhet, Paris, L. Genonceaux, 1890, p. 170.

11 .. [Émile Goudeau], «politique du Chat noir», in Le Chat noir, n° 47, 2 décembre 1882, 1 and n° 46, 25 novembre 1882, p. 1.

12 .Adolphe, «Juifs et la semaine sainte», in Le Courrier français, n° 14, 5 avril 1885, p. 4-5.

13 . See, for example, Floux Jean, «Revanche», in Le Chat noir n° 298, 24 septembre 1887, p. 986, an anti-semitic pom dedicated to Drumont; Anonymous, «», in Le Courrier français, n° 17, 25 April 1886, p. 6, a review of La France juive, and, «France juive», ibid., n° 20, 16 May 1886, p. 2.

14 . On Émile Cohl, seeDonald, Émile Cohl, Caricature and Film, Princeton, 1990, p. 60-63. The role of caricature in the Dreyfus Affair is treated in depth in The Dreyfus Affair : Art, Truth and Justice, Norman L. (ed.), Berkeley, 1987, the catalogue of an exhibition held at the Jewish Museum in New York.

15 . Anonymous, «Fin d’un monde», n° 357, 17 novembre 1888, 1226, a review of Drumont’s book of the same name.

16 . As illustrated in Le Courrier français n° 20, 16 mai 1886, p. 5.

17 . introduction toArthur, «Saint-Gothard», in Le Chat noir, n° 25, 1er juilleet 1882, p. 2. Givierge’s article claimed that the Alberg tunnel was part of a Germano-Italian military plot against France involving secret plans to partition Switzerland.

18 . Jules «Valmy», in Le Courrier français, n° 35, 28 août 1892, p. 4.

19 . See Jules «Une Statue de Lazare Carnot à Paris», in Le Courrier français, n° 43, 21 octobre 1888, p. 1 and n° 44, 28 octobre 1888, p. 2;, «ouvert par Le Courrier français pour l’érection d’une statue de Lazare Carnot», in Le Courrier français, n° 45, 4 novembre 1888, p. 2. Prize-winning maquettes were illustrated in Le Courrier français n° 51, décembre 1888. The two first prizes were awarded to Jean Turcan and Émile Bourdelle; second prizes were given to Alexandre Charpentier and Fulconis, while Paul Choppin, Louis Noël and Louis Charles Beylard received honorable mentions.

20 . An early instance of such a stance is exemplified in a cartoon by Rodolphe «Revanche», in Le Chat noir, septembre 1882, in which a scythe-wielding figure of Death stalks Bismarck, the German Chancellor.

21 . SeeÉmile, «politique du Chat noir», in Le Chat noir, n° 59, 24 février 1883, 1-2, part of a larger campaign against popular sovereignty.

22 . See, for example, the cover illustration of Boulanger as virile military leader, «l’âge de boue, l’âge de fer», in Le Courrier français, 20 novembre 1887.

23 . Gabriel Terrail], «Mars !», in Le Courrier français, n° 12, 24 March 1889, 3.

24 . Amongst Mermeix’s articles in support of Boulanger, see «de la semaine», in Le Courrier français, n° 32, 8 août 1886, p. 2, a glowing biography of the General; «La Cocarde», in Le Courrier français, n° 11, 11 mars 1888, p. 2-3; «Thiébaut», in Le Courrier français, n° 16, 15 avril 1888, p. 2. On the Wilson affair, widely covered in Le Courrier français, see, for example «L’Expiation», in Le Courrier français, n° 41, 16 octobre 1887, p. 2-4.

25 . SeeWilliam D., «, Mass Politics and the Boulanger Affair», in French History, n° 3 (1), 1989, p. 31-47.

26 . See, for example,, «Manifestations boulangistes», in Le Chat noir, n° 329, mai 1888, p. 1114. See, «Chanson politique», in Le Rappel, 6 avril 1897.

27 . Philip G., Paris Shopkeepers and the Politics of Resentment, Princeton, 1986, p. 331.

28 . Adolphe, Feu Pierrot 1857-19 ?, Paris, Floury, 1919, p. 122.

29 . See the cartoon by , «Villon, maître perpétuel des poètes de Paris», in Le Chat noir, n° 233, 17 avril 1886, p. 687.

30 . On the festival and plans to reproduce Jean François Marie Etcheto’s statue of the pot, first exhibited at the Salon of 1881, see Anonymous, «Villon», in Le Chat noir, n° 186, 1er août 1885, 536 and La Rédaction, «Villon», Le Chat noir, n° 187, 8 août 1885, p. 537. An organizing committee was elected at the Chat noir on 7 August, with Barbey d’Aurevilly as Président d’honneur, Jean Richepin and Émile Goudeau as joint presidents, Jules Roques as secretary, and Albert Tinchant as assistant secretary. Committee members included Guy de Maupassant, Jules Clarétie, Henri Gervex, Jules Jouy and Rodolphe Salis.

31 . See, for example, the cover illustration by L. «Gargantua sur les tours de NotreDame», in Le Courrier français, 23 May 1886.

32 .Michael, Le Commerce de la Bohème, p. 133, notes that Henri Murger, author of the seminal Scènes de la vie de Bohème (1847-1849), had already invoked this genealogy for bohemianism.

33 . SeeÉmile, «politique du Chat noir», in Le Chat noir n° 55, 27 janvier 1883, p. 1.

34 . Gabriel Terrail], «Chroniques de l’Abbé de Thélème», in Le Courrier français, n° 21, 23 May 1886, p. 2.

35 . On Pille, see, Henri Pille, Château-Thierry, 1898.

36 . See, for example,, «IV», in Le Courrier français, 15 mai 1887; Pille Henri, «», in Le Courrier français, 4 Avril 1886.

37 . Quoted in., Confidences parisiennes. Mes Entretiens (1887), p. 227.

38 .Henri, «Promenade à Schaffenhouse», in Le Chat noir, n° 137, 23 août 1884, p. 338.

39 .Octave, «Gaule», in Le Courrier français, Special issue (un-numbered), 24 novembre 1892, p. 6.

40 . SeeMarieVéronique, Chanson, sociabilité et grivoiserie au e siècle, Paris, Aubier, 1992.

41 . See, for example,Jules, «», in Le Courrier français, n° 45, 9 novembre 1890,, in which Roques artistic and political philosophies are outlined, and, «», in L’Égalité, 1er avril 1890. The daily paper, taken over by Roques in 1889, was the mouthpiece of his Ligue socialiste, though many on the left suspected Roques as a «» (see Anonymous, «la ligue policière», in Horreurs de Paris, 11 mai 1889). This mistrust is echod in police reports. An anonymous account of a meeting of the anarchist «international», dated 29 April 1889, mentions suspicions that the Ligue socialiste was a police front : «le monde est tombé d’accord pour déclarer qu’il ne fallait pas attacher grande importance à la Ligue et que l’on devait considérer Roques comme un fumiste, un agent boulangiste, un homme vendu et prêt à livrer, le moment venu, l’organisation de la Ligue Socialiste» (Archives de la Préfecture de Police, Dossier Ba 905).

42 .Georges, «Vache enragée», in La Vache enragée, mai-juin 1897.

43 .Émile, «Bleu à La Butte» in Guide de l’étranger à Montmartre, Paris, J. Strauss, 1900, p. 7-8.

44 . SeeHugues [Georges Thiebost], «ouverte à M. Adolphe Willette», in Le Courrier français n° 30, 23 juillet 1899, p. 2, criticizing Willette’s cartoon «Dame de pique-Venez mon beau capitaine, venez faire la mort avec moi à Monaco», ibid., n° 29, 16 juillet 1899, p. 1. Delorme criticizes the virulence of Willette’s nationalism, and remarks : «’ici, d’accord avec notre directeur et camarade Jules Roques, nous nous étions imposés de ne point parler de l’Affaire». It is notable that by this date Le Courrier français had largely abandoned its more bohemian stance, and had toned down an erotic content which had led to multiple prosecutions in the late 1880s and early’90s. The more conciliatory tone towards metropolitan culture is accompanied by increasingly prominent advertising content. Noting Roque’s commercial arrangement with the pharmaceutical producers Géraudel, Howard Lay argues that from the outset Le Courrier français was directed at a broad public (its initial print run was 20 000) and that it «to broaden the scope of montmartrois bohemianism, and to market it-in a significantly watered-down fashion-to the uninitiated Parisian». SeeHoward, La Fête aux boulevards extérieurs, op. cit., note 1, p. 211.

45 .Émile, «», in Les Quat’z’Arts, n° 17, 27 February 1898, p. 2.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1: Adolphe Willette, «Le Veau d’or.» As illustrated in Feu Pierrot (1919).
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Légende Fig. 2: Adolphe Willette, «Israël à la Bourse», in Le Courrier français, 28 mars 1886.
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Légende Fig. 3 : Adolphe Willette, «Les Juifs et la semaine sainte», in Le Courrier français, 5 avril 1885.
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Légende Fig. 4 : Adolphe Willette, «Je suis la Sainte Démocratie», in Le Courrier français, 4 décembre 1887.
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Légende Fig. 5 : Tiret-Bognet, «Gallia Hominem quaerens», in Le Courrier français, 5 juin 1887.
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Légende Fig. 6 : Adolphe Willette, Election poster, 1889.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupo/docannexe/image/2237/img-6.jpg
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Légende Fig. 7 : Henri Pille, «La Gaule», in Le Courrier français, 24 novembre 1892.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupo/docannexe/image/2237/img-7.jpg
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