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florian

 

A Belle Epoque courtesan of the first magnitude, Marthe de Florian (1864-1939) has been well forgotten since her “sentimental retirement”. But the reopening of her apartment, seven decades after her death, reminded her to our good memory by the brilliance of her treasures.

 

Monsieur Olivier Choppin Janvry is not close to forgetting the spring day of  2010 when he was mandated by a provincial notary to open a Parisian apartment which remained hermetically sealed since the beginning of WW2. This real estate of fifteen hundred square feet located in the Pigalle neighborhood was a frozen in sanctuary. Under a thin layer of dust, a whole world of high gallantry began to revive through the correspondence carefully classified and color-coded with silk ribbon ties according to the sender.

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France during WW2

The owner of the place died in Trouville-sur-Mer on August 29, 1939, bequeathing the apartment to her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, then aged 20. During the German occupation, soon after, Solange left Paris to join the Free Zone in the south of France and settled down in the Ardèche. She never returned to the capital but, for the next seventy years, she scrupulously paid the quarterly dues on this Parisian apartment.

When she died in May 2010,  aged 91, the apartment revealed its Art Nouveau treasures, and especially a superb life-size portrait of its former owner clad in a vaporous evening dress of pale pink satin.

 

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An expert identified the author of the portrait: Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Executed in 1898, this masterpiece remained an unknown in the work of the famous portrait painter and later sold for more than two million euros. It was common knowledge that the artist did not deign to honor a portrait commission below one million francs – except for a privileged relationship with the model. The wealthy Italian buyer of the painting was offered as a bonus a package of correspondence enlightening the personality of the said model and the gallant history of the Third Republic.

 

Who was Marthe de Florian? From a midinette to a high-end courtesan, read her story here.

 

 

Related posts:

The Noon Girl: La Midinette
The Gallery of Achievers: The Inescapable Sarah Bernhardt
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The colorful Belle Epoque posters make the joy of collectors. Not only are they highly decorative and amusing in their occasional naïveté but they also inform us about the changing lifestyle. New alimentary products appear, such as chemical taste enhancers and food substitutes. Maggi, powdered milk, and margarine became regular ingredients of people’s diet. Chocolat, previously only served as drink, acquired the solid form of tablets as we know them today. Biscuits were produced industrially.

 

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“The French Sardine Says Hello!” Food talked to people before the advertising industry discovered that humanizing animals we eat was not a good idea.

 

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Sausages that “One Eats with Pleasure and Without Fatigue”. A prodigious pig (cochon prodigue) indeed! An animal that happily slices itself for the consumer’s delight would probably turn off today’s viewers. The Belle Epoque folk were made of a tougher stock.

 

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Seen only in greasy spoons today, a bottle of Maggi was a novelty worthy of a bourgeois table.

 

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A bowlful of chemically enhanced soup before the bedtime was a sign of good parenting

 

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Bonjour! Do you eat Maggi soups? Sold in every grocery

 

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This margarine obtained gold medals in Amsterdam {1883) and Le Havre (1887)

 

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Be it cheese, beer, champagne or herb liquor, monks were trusted to produce quality food and drink

 

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In this boy’s mind, solid chocolate is better than solid gold

 

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Biscuits to be served with champagne. A beautiful poster by Alphonse Mucha, 1896

 

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A boy in a typical school uniform is enjoying sweet biscuits

 

 

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Cookies could start a romance (1896)

 

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“No arms, no chocolate”. This bizarre advertising depicts a well-known French saying. One could think that this cruelty hides a wisdom of some sort; that it can be interpreted as “no effort, no reward.” That is not so. This replica is passed on in popular language and is serving to highlight the absurdity of a ban or to make fun of someone faced with a physical impossibility:

“Mom, can I have chocolate?”
“There’s some in the closet. Go serve yourself.”
“But Mom, I can’t, you know I don’t have arms.”
“No arms, no chocolate!”
Obviously, it makes some sense to the French.

 

 

Related post:

The Belle Epoque Lifestyle: Personal Hygiene

 

 

 

Vintage Paris Postcards

 

 

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And 17 more…

You can send these cards from the website. If you need translation, click on the black and white icon close to the bookmarks star.

 

Related post:

Greetings from Paris: Expect the Unexpected

 

 

 

The French have the tendency to elevate the ordinary, to find beauty where there is none, to make insignificance matter. Nothing is too low to deserve contempt. While everybody agrees that every cloud has a silver lining, the French focus on the silver lining, trying to ignore the rainy side of the matter. That’s the part of their savoir vivre.

To start with, open a menu in a French restaurant. Nowhere in the world does food sound so extraordinary. Even a simple dish of peas topped with butter bears the fancy name of Petits Pois Bonne Femme. Naturally, you eat a dish thus named with a proper reverence. And that’s how things should be done, n’est-ce pas? Similarly, a mole becomes a grain de beauté. If you have one, doesn’t it make you feel better? It does, doesn’t it?

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This attitude extends to the homeless. There is a certain nobility in a bum who sleeps under the bridge, with an empty bottle at his side, as long as the bridge is in Paris and the empty bottle had held the Beaujolais. The Parisian homeless is not a lowly bum. He is called a clochard and he deserves a song, a story, a painting, or even an entire movie. He is as much part of the Parisian folklore as all the midinettes, gigolettes, and grisettes of the previous posts.

Let’s first look at the silver lining before we address the reality. It is true that the clochards, like all the vagrants elsewhere in the world, enjoy a privileged life. They are their own bosses, they have no hours because time is their own and they are free of mortgage and of monthly bills. Why not celebrate this extraordinary freedom with a popular valse?

Below are the chorus lyrics to the video that begins this post. Do start the video now.

Sous les ponts de Paris
Lorsque descend la nuit,
Tout’s sort’s de gueux se faufilent en cachette
Et sont heureux d’trouver une couchette
Hôtel du courant d’air,
Où l’on ne paye pas cher,
L’parfum et l’eau c’est pour rien, mon marquis
Sous les ponts de Paris.

Translation:

Under the bridges of Paris / When the night begins / All sorts of ragamuffins sneak in / Happy to find a berth

It’s the hotel of cold drafts / Where we don’t pay much / The perfume and water are for free, my marquis / Under the bridges of Paris

 

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Now that we waltzed to the romantic lyrics, we can send a postcard of two vagrants (cheminaux) enjoying a lazy day next to someone’s working tools. Being a bum was not that bad when the warm weather lasted.

 

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Let’s get real. This picture shows a cave, where the homeless gathered for a night in inclement weather. Nothing romantic can be found here. In some shelters of this type, the bums sat secured by a rope that prevented them from falling during sleep.

 

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The poor gather around a heat source during winter

 

Modern times brought better shelter for the homeless but the problem of people without a fixed address in Paris streets grows instead of going away. Gone is the happy clochard content with a bottle of wine. The city is a target for a new type of homeless: those who came from the former colonies after having taken a perilous clandestine journey over the Mediterranean Sea.  They came to partake in the riches of Europe and as their dreams fade, they become increasingly angry.

 

Related posts:

Poor and Helpless in 19th Century Paris

The Worst Season in Paris

 

The second video, made for the American tourist, is from the 1920s. Explore the boulevards and their café culture. Gain valuable knowledge, such as the way of serving caviar and pancakes. 😉

 

 

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The Arrival of the Midinettes by Jean Béraud

 

In the earlier Parisian fauna, we met the grisettes and the gigolettesThe former were independent working-class girls often romantically involved with students. The latter, the equivalent of gangsters’ molls, were mostly full-time prostitutes. Generally speaking, while the grisettes centered in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, which housed the Sorbonne, the Polytechnic School, and other important educational institutions, the gigolettes inhabited the working-class neighborhoods on the city periphery.

The Right Bank, around the rue de la Paix, saw a rapidly-growing number of couture houses and luxury accessories workshops populated by young and fashion-conscious female workers. At noon -midi – these girls hurried out to take a light meal – dinette – in a cheap restaurant or simply on a public garden bench. The age of the midinette extends from around 1850 to the 1960s, when the haute-couture business began to fade.

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The Milliner on the Champs Elysées by Jean Béraud

Both the grisette and the midinette were steady figures in the romantic imagery of Paris. They acted as the muses for writers and painters. Poems, songs,  novels, and later movies, paid homage to them. The tragic Mimi, from the opera La Bohêmeimmediately comes to mind.

The midinette is painted as she trots the streets delivering a dress or a new hat. She is immortalized dancing in public balls or enjoying a Sunday picnic. Little is said about a 12-hour day and insufficient wages. The girl, who wants to be fashionable, may resort to prostitution to pay for her finery.

The temptation is ever-present. At noon, the predators are waiting. Old men in the pursuit of youth gather at the entrance of the couture houses, offering the treat of a luxury lunch; men with dark intentions roam the public gardens, where the girls rest.

 

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“With no regard for your white hair, you run after the midinettes. Merry Spring finds Winter scary – don’t bother the young girls,” says this postcard

 

Paris honored her working girls. The washerwomen became queens for a day.  As for the midinettes, once a year, they participated in a grueling competition known as The Race of the Midinettes.

 

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The course started on the Place de la Concorde and led up the Champs Elysées, and past the Arc de Triomphe, to end after 12 kilometers (approx. 8 miles) in Nanterre. A newspaper describes the event in 1903:

All these young ladies, competing first, in the most varied costumes, some, not all, very successful: then the crowd of relatives, friends, and finally innumerable, thick, the troop of the curious. The departure was laborious. At last, at half – past eleven, a real army sprang from the Place de la Concorde towards the Arc de Triomphe; cars, cabs, bicycles, motorcycles, struggled in the midst of all this and, although preceded by Paris guards on horseback, the Midinettes sometimes had to play fists to make their way. The first arrival was Miss Jeanne Cheminel, a pleasant twenty-four-year-old brunette who shot her 12 kilometers in 1:10, which is meritorious. This sturdy walker is a milliner, and that somewhat upset a few seamstresses, who, behind her, nevertheless obtained the best places. Here, in fact, were the first: Jeanne Cheminel, milliner; Lucie Fleury, seamstress; Marie Touvard, seamstress; Louise Balesta, seamstress; Alice Brard, seamstress; Mathide Mignot, seamstress; Kugel, seamstress; Marguerite Pradel, seamstress; Jeanne Brederie, seamstress.

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A competitor in the race offered a pleasant sight: a chic naval hat sitting on freshly curled hair, a dress with a lace collar, the waist squeezed with a corset. A bouquet of fresh flowers pinned at the shoulder completed the outfit

 

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The end of the race shows considerable damage to the outfit and the hairdo. The sport was in its infancy and so was the fashion for the competitors. See how men dressed for this type of events here

 

Related posts:

From Washerwoman to Queen of Paris

La Grisette

Parisian Prostitutes (2): La Gigolette

 

 

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An attack on a police wagon. Criminal gangs were the scourge of Paris

 

It was never easy to police Paris. The Parisians, instead of being glad for the help and protection, have always despised their policemen.  The contempt has been profound and general. It could be that the Parisians, more than most, don’t want to be told how to behave. A strike, a riot, a revolution, have been their tools of political and social change across the 19th century and well beyond. To say that policing during the Belle Epoque  (1870 – 1914) was a martyrdom would be a slight exaggeration but it was a very hard job on a tiny pay. The police staff was recruited mostly from the army and the discipline in the police corps was just as hard, if not harder. The recruits had to have a virginal criminal record. According to the 1880s tariff, the policeman earned 4 francs and 75 cents for an eleven and a half-hour day. In comparison, a maid-of-all-work touched one franc a day.  For that pitiful wage, the men had to risk their lives in many wild scenarios that are nowadays shared among different rescue services. In 1884, for example, the statistics show one killed policeman and 144 injured ones.

Let’s have a look at a policeman’s day and the variety of crimes committed in that era:

 

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Strikes of all sorts are still part of the urban life in Paris. They may be less violent than in the past when the police collected bruises in the street

 

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The Belle Epoque Paris faced the threat of various anarchist bomb-throwers. Bombs exploded in the National Assembly, in police stations, in cafés, or simply in the street. Premature explosions also happened, as in this picture

 

 

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The public, accustomed to the explosion of anarchists’ bombs, reacts to a malfunctioning motorcar

 

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Police had to deal with the raging crowd when a hated criminal was transported. Here they protect Jeanne Weber, a serial child killer

 

 

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Arrestation of the Sirène de Reuilly. Marie-Thérèse de Gordoue, or simply Gourdon in real life, was a successful courtesan and the head of a large crime organization

 

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Criminal gang members, suspected of snitching, were separated from their noses during a surgery without anesthesia

 

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Shopkeepers, working alone, were often victims of robbery and murder

 

 

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The Bois de Boulogne on the outskirts of the city continues to this day to be the playground of vice and crime. From time to time, the authorities ordered a thorough cleanup.

 

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A police raid in a “hôtel de passe”. These establishments rented rooms on the hour. Considered immoral, they were often visited by the police. Men went scot-free but women caught in the raid were transported to the police depot, and from there to the Saint-Lazare female prison

 

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Escapes and roof chases kept the policemen in good physical condition

 

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The police operated at different height levels. A pickpocket plucked from a tree

 

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At the commissariat, a thief surrenders a watch he had swallowed

 

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Family drama: The father is not dead yet but the fierce competition among the siblings is already in a full swing

 

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A police commissaire is seriously injured in a Paris riot

 

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Another victim of duty, an undercover police officer is shot in front of the Moulin Rouge

 

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Acts of bravery and dedication abounded despite the public contempt for policemen

 

Related posts:

The Gangs of Paris: Les Apaches

Murder Most Horrible: The Bloody Trunk Case

Saint-Lazare: Women in Prison

1890’s Terror in Paris: History Repeating Itself

 

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