Monday, February 8, 2010

What's in a Name - Le Lapin Agile

Le Lapin Agile

Just when you think you knew it!

Montmartre of the late C19 has always had the strongest fascination for me, particularly the establishments that emerged there to meet certain of the shall we say more basic needs of intellectuals, artists, writers, the upper classes, politicians and so on.

While these venues presented genuine artists, such as the cabaret singer Yvette Guilbert ...

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec 'Yvette Guilbert' 1894

... many of the 'performers' had parallel careers as persons of easy virtue, like the famed Can Can dancer La Goulue (Louise Weber, 1866-1929) ...


... who was the undisputed and highly paid star of the Le Moulin Rouge ...


Other similar music halls in Montmartre were Le Moulin Radet ...


... and Le Moulin de la Galette ...

Le Moulin de la Galette 1885


Vincent van Gogh 'Le Moulin de la Galette' (1886)

Other watering holes of the demi monde were cafes, such as Le Chat Noir ...



... and Le Lapin Agile ...

Le Lapin Agile 1880-1890

Le Lapin Agile with the proprietor, Frédéric Gerard, aka le père Frédé, playing the guitar (c1905)

Now - slowly slowly - we're getting to the point of the post!

In 1875, a sign was painted for 'Le Cabaret des Assassins' at 22 rur des Saules in Montmartre.

It showed a rabbit jumping out of a saucepan. Hence, I thought, the name of the cafe - agility does of course keep rabbits out of cooking utensils and off dinner tables, yeah?

However ... the painter's name was Andre Gill and so locals gradually began to call the cafe 'Le Lapin à Gill' (Gill's rabbit) - which I imagine evolved, as things do, into 'Le Lapin Agile' (the nimble rabbit. Though perhaps both meanings were intended at the outset.

At the century turned over, the 'Le Cabaret Au Lapin Agile' was attracting artists and writers, such as Picasso, Utrillo and Apollinaire. Who often recorded the goings on. Classic Montmartre stuff.

Pablo Picasso 'Au Lapin Agile' (1905)

Now, I very much like the notion of time travelling back - even just for a moment - to any or all of these establishments.

And it seemed momentarily possible this morning when I came across a tiny piece of early C20 French film.

It shows a bunch of people in Montmartre walking past 'Le Rat Mort' (the dead rat) ...


... and then we see the briefest camera shot of Gill's sign through the branches of a tree, an image in which we can just make out the legs of the infamous rabbit as it leaps out of a pan sitting on a bottle strewn table ...


Or are we alternatively looking at an early form of Rorschach inkblot test!

The footage then leads into the outside front patio of Le Lapin Agile, with its benches and tables just as pictured in the photograph and painting above. But with with the addition of a maid, a small donkey, and the patron's dog. The requisite writers/painters/poets/whatever are there cogitating away round a table in the background ...


The capped man in the middle ground tries not too successfully to drive the donkey out of frame with a little cane ...


Finally we have the patron himself, Frédéric Gerard, known as le père Frédé ...


... with his back against open window shutters and puffing away on his pipe, for all the world a dead ringer for Santa Claus.

Ok, I'm just going to step into my tardis ... and while I'm away ...

video

... I hope you'll enjoy this just half as much as I did making it!

1 comment:

  1. Hi there - thank you for the lovely post on The Lapin Agile. Can you tell me where you found the footage???? It's amazing!

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