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Posts Tagged ‘19th century France’

It takes a lot of effort to become an emperor. First, you have to believe in yourself and your star, which is easy when you are a nephew of the Great Corsican and the heir to his fallen throne. But you also need an endless persistence: the strength to overcome failure, to dust yourself off after a hard fall, and to pursue your goal with renewed energy. Next, you need a lack of moral scruples, the ability to handle people and, finally, a serious heap of money. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte checked off every item on this list except for the last one.

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Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte

When we meet Louis-Napoleon in London, he is an errant prince with a busy past. He had staged two attempts at seizing power in France, was exiled to America for the first one, and imprisoned for life for the second attempt. He has recently escaped from a fortress, where he was supposed to rot, and now he is in London with only his name for a capital. He is thirty-eight years old.

What would you do at this stage of your life had you had these experiences? You and I would be glad to be alive and free, and we would be cured of our mad ambitions. Louis-Napoleon, on the contrary, was incurable and more than able to function in dire circumstances.

Although many unsavory rumors were later fabricated by his enemies, there is sufficient evidence that the prince behaved extremely badly during his American exile, where he was sent with the provision of fifteen thousand francs coming from the French taxpayers’ pockets. Indeed, King Louis-Philippe, who then reigned in France, chose to reduce Louis-Napoleon’s first attempt at a coup d’état to a childish prank and he put some hush money into the youth’s pocket. After all, the Bonapartist feeling in France was still strong, and a political trial could rock the boat.

Louis-Napoleon, still in his twenties, managed to squander the money on New York’s whores. After being thrown out of three brothels for misbehaving and out of his hotel for “forgetting” to pay, he lodged with a prostitute and proceeded to live out of her earnings. If the woman’s clients complained about the price, Loulou was there to change their opinion with his fists. He thus ended in detention for assault and robbery. A good lawyer managed to set him free. The same lawyer, after Louis-Napoleon’s ascension to the throne, complained in a newspaper interview that he had never been paid for his effort.

Despite all this, one must not form an image of a lazy and brutal sex-addict. Louis-Napoleon had many intellectual qualities that later helped him in governing a nation. He was attentive and curious, pragmatic, and always willing to learn. During his imprisonment in the fortress of Ham, after the second botched coup d’état, he kept busy producing socio-economic pamphlets filled with progressive ideas that he realized later in life. He also managed to father two male children with the local washerwoman.

Women were not only his strongest interest, they were also the vehicles of his political ideas. Whether they fell in love with his legendary name and title, his romantic charisma, or with the man himself, is difficult to say but Louis-Napoleon never lacked a sweetheart willing to sacrifice herself for his political success. In London, after his escape from prison, that post was filled with Miss Harriet Howard.

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Miss Harriet Howard

 

The daughter of a Brighton shoemaker, Harriet, then aged twenty-three, was a beautiful and refined courtesan, who had amassed a fortune, which she laid at Louis-Napoleon’s feet. Being supported by a woman was nothing new for the prince.  Harriet dumped her current rich keeper for him and begun to earn a fat income from attracting clients to a gambling club.  For good measure, she also took in Louis-Napoleon’s two small sons whom he had to leave behind at Ham.

Thanks to Harriet’s industry, Louis-Napoleon was able to lead a comfortable life. Again, he kept busy writing. This time, he was correcting his manuscript The History and the Future of Artillery and producing a study on an economically profitable canal in Nicaragua. He also kept current on the news from France.  On February 26, 1848, he learned that there was a revolution in Paris.

 

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The 1848 revolution painted by Alphonse de Lamartine

 

There had been nothing drastically wrong with King Louis-Philippe’s government but, since the First Revolution, the French people became accustomed to uprising for real or imagined wrongs. This time, some clumsy government actions and a couple of moral scandals resulted in a riot which accidentally turned into a revolution. Not knowing what was wrong, and therefore unable to do something about it, Louis-Philippe gave up and, while the revolutionary mob ransacked the royal palace of Tuileries, he bought a boat ticket for England.

Crossing the Channel in the opposite direction was Prince Louis-Napoleon with Harriet’s fortune. He would need it to finance his candidacy in the first electoral campaign in the French history. This time, everything went well for the prince. His name worked magic, and his innovative social and economic ideas spoke for him. He was elected to be the first president of the Second Republic. He would also be the last one. At the end of his four-year mandate, he would stage his third and successful coup d’état to put the imperial crown on his head under the name of Napoleon III. The Second Empire would last for eighteen prosperous years.  Until the next revolution. . .

And Miss Harriet Howard in all this? After having financed an enormous electoral campaign, Harriet was often seen in the Prince-President’s company but she was never invited to the Elysée Palace where the official business took place. The post of the First Lady was occupied by Louis-Napoleon’s cousin, Princess Mathilde. Still, Harriet kept hoping that her day would come when her lover would carry the imperial crown. Four years later, when no invitation came from the Tuileries Palace, the seat of the newly-formed imperial court, Harriet decided that she would wait no longer. She went there uninvited. It was the first, and the last time she appeared publicly in the emperor’s presence.

What happened next would have happened anyway but Harriet’s unfortunate initiative did speed up the process.  The next day, her dear Loulou came to visit her, which was not unusual as they maintained a warm relationship, but this time he offered her an official mission to England. He provided her with a list of persons whom she should visit in order to establish a good relationship between England and France. Thrilled to be named a goodwill ambassador, Harriet accepted to leave at once. When she and her escort reached the seashore, the bad weather prevented them from boarding their ship. While waiting for the weather to clear, Harriet purchased a newspaper where she read the announcement of the emperor’s engagement to Eugenie de Montijo. She returned to Paris at once.

Back home, she found her apartment in disorder, with the upholstery slashed open and her desk taken apart. All compromising correspondence was missing. In the end, Harriet fared better than the unpaid New York lawyer. She received a hereditary title, becoming the Countess de Beauregard, and retired to her country chateau of the same name. At her request, she continued to care for the washerwoman’s little boys.

 

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Harriet’s château

 

Related posts:

Eugenie, the Tragic Empress

Loulou and the Zulus: The Life and Death of Napoleon IV

Mark Twain on Napoleon III

 

 

 

 

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Napoleon III and his family

 

Napoleon the Fourth? Was there ever such an emperor? Strangely enough, the Zulus in South Africa can tell you more about this personage than an average Frenchman. The Zulus know him as Prince Imperial and, each year, they celebrate his anniversary with the local version of pomp and circumstance. And why wouldn’t they if there is good tourist money in it?

 

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pi road signFollow the road sign and you can visit the Prince Imperial’s museum, his memorial financed by Queen Victoria, and the battlefields of the Zulu War. You’ll be retracing Empress Eugenie’s pilgrimage the year after her son’s death. If you happen to be on this road the first Sunday in June, you can participate in a mass for his soul celebrated in French, English, and Latin.

Except for a few die-hard Bonapartists, Napoleon the Fourth may be forgotten in his homeland. For most of his short life, he was known as Prince Imperial, the heir to the French throne. In his childhood, he was the darling of the nation and, as he grew into a handsome young man, he became the treasured secret of many a young girl’s heart. He was to the French what John Kennedy Jr. was to the Americans and it is easy to understand that his premature death at the age of twenty-three caused consternation and grief for the whole nation.

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Marie Bashkirtsheff, a Russian art student in Paris, tells us about this somber day in her diary:

As I was about to leave the studio at noon yesterday, Julian called to the servant through the speaking tube; she put her ear to the tube, and she said to us with some emotion:

“Ladies, M. Julian desires me to tell you that the Prince Imperial is dead.”

I gave a cry and sat down on the coal-box. Then, as everyone began to talk at once, Rosalie said:

“A moment of silence, if you please, ladies. The news is official; a telegram has just been received. He has been killed by the Zulus; this is was M. Julian says.”

The news had already begun to spread; so that when they brought me the Estafette with the words in capital letters, “Death Of Prince Imperial,” I cannot express how much I was shocked.

And then, no matter to what party one may belong, whether one be a Frenchman or a foreigner, it is impossible to avoid sharing in the feeling o consternation with which the news has been everywhere received.

One thing I will say, however, which none of the papers has said, and that is that the English are cowards and assassins. There is something mysterious about this death: there must be both treachery and crime at the bottom of it. Was it natural that a prince on whom all the hopes of his party were fixed should be thus exposed to danger, an only son?

I think there is no one devoid of feeling as not to be moved at the thought of his mother’s anguish. The most dire misfortune, the crudest of losses, may still leave some gleam of hope in the future, some possibility of consolation. This leaves none. One may say with truth that this is a grief like no other. It was because of her [Empress Eugenie] that he went; she gave him no peace; she tormented him; she allowed him no more than five hundred francs a month, a sum upon which he could hardly contrive to live. The mother and son parted on bad terms with each other. Do you perceive the horror of the thing? Can you understand how his mother must feel?

England has treated the Bonapartes shamefully on every occasion when they were so blind as to ask the help of that ignoble country, and it fills me with rage and hatred when I think of it.”

Thus spoke Marie in her youthful grief. That she seemed well-informed of the tensions between mother and son, tells us that she was an avid reader of the gossipy newspapers which began to bloom in that era. As for England’s bad treatment of the exiled Bonapartes, she could not be more wrong. There was a solid friendship between the British royalty and the Bonapartes that was born during Victoria and Albert’s visit to France in 1855. You can read about it in The Prince of Wales in Paris: Please Adopt Me! published here. Queen Victoria figured in Prince Imperial’s life on many occasions. To begin with, when Eugenie complained about the difficulty with getting pregnant, it was her good friend Victoria, mother of a large family, who gave her a valid advice which resulted in the prince’s birth.

Several sources reveal that Victoria reserved for him her youngest daughter Beatrice as a spouse regardless of the fact that after the Second Empire’s collapse in 1870 he became an heir without a throne. Like the Bonapartes, Victoria believed that her dear Loulou would reconquer his lost empire. So did the still strong Bonapartist party in the now Republican  France. Upon his father’s death in 1873, the young prince became Emperor Napoleon IV by the Bonapartists’ acclamation. It was—they hoped—only a question of time for the rightful ruler to claim his throne.

pi berceauNapoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, or Loulou to his family, was born March 16, 1856, and spent his early days in this splendid crib donated by the City of Paris. His godparents were Queen Victoria and Pope Pius IX. As the only child, he had no one to play with and his main entertainment was watching the guard manoeuvering in front of the palace windows. His love for the military was born there. Sometimes, he would also play at governing. Sitting at his father’s desk, he would seize important documents and fold them into animal forms. His adoring father would not dare to protest. As an aside, had he lived and cultivated his talent for sculpture, Loulou could have become a brilliant artist. There were many promises in the boy’s life, all of them unfulfilled.

The following video records the young man’s life from birth to death. We see the delightful child growing into a Prince Charming, we follow him to the exile in England, and from there to South Africa, and witness his heroic death at the hand of the Zulu warriors. We assist at his funeral in England and see his mother’s grief. The old empress then remembers happier times. All of it in six and a half minutes.

 

 

Marie was also wrong about the conspiracy regarding the prince’s death in South Africa. On the contrary, the British Army and the government freaked out at the idea of taking responsibility for the young man’s life. They wanted nothing to do with him and it took the joined effort of Eugenie and Victoria, with the special order from the latter, for him to be enlisted for the war in Zululand. Even at that, he was scrupulously kept away from the real action. Both women believed that the prince needed to cover himself with glory in order to succeed in his crown conquest.  As for the man himself, he did not need any encouragement. Eager to become a worthy heir of his famous great-uncle, Napoleon I, he studiously sought danger to the chagrin of his British “baby-sitters”.  He found his death in a seemingly deserted kraal where he decided it was time for a coffee break during a recognition ride. In the video that follows, the event is reconstructed based on the statements given the following day by the members of the patrol.

 

 

prince imperialThere remain many what-could-have-been questions.  What would have happened had the uncrowned Napoleon IV not lost his life that day? Would he have recovered his throne and brought back the Empire? How would that change France’s and, to some degree, Europe’s destiny? Queen Victoria might have hoped to establish her youngest daughter as the Empress of France, but would the French go for it? That remains doubtful. Would they have unanimously accepted an emperor who had been schooled in England, served in the British army and married a British Protestant princess? Questions, questions…

 

Related posts:

Eugenie, the Tragic Empress

Mark Twain on Napoleon III

 

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noel 0It’s that time of the year again, so Merry Christmas or Joyeux Noël as the French say. Instead of going to bed, looking forward to Christmas morning like the Americans do, the French people will stay wide awake to engage in an eating marathon called le réveillon which starts right after the Midnight Mass.  As for the gifts, they will be delivered by Père Noël. Don’t expect him to come down through the chimney for he is not that keen on getting his outfit dirty. The gifts are dropped from the roof, and that’s that. These days, the Père Noël’s look is pretty much standardized, the red being the only choice, but the old Père Noël came in different colors and had a slimmer frame as you can see in the following fashion show:

 

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Related post: The Good News

 

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If you lived during what the French call the Belle Epoque (1871-1914) in any literate country, you would have stumbled upon Sarah Bernhardt. There was no way of avoiding her name in print. She would shock you with her latest extravagancy or sell you a product of some sort.  Wherever you lived,  on whatever continent—except for Antarctica—Sarah’s feet would have touched it and she would have died on it. People around the world would pay good money to watch Sarah die in French. She was very good at it. Never mind that you did not understand a word she was saying for there was plenty to look at for the price and you could tell with pride that you have seen the Greatest Tragedy Queen Ever.

 

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Just to show you the international weight of Sarah’s personality, here she is as an old lady in the US: urging America to enter the World War One

 

What Bernhardt, also known as The Divine Sarah, meant to her own country is demonstrated in this video which shows that the French Republic staged a funeral worthy of a queen:

 

 

A sighting of Sarah Bernhardt in all her glory was a memorable event:

“…Into the gallery one day, as our obscure party moved about, there entered a Personage; a charming figure, with a following of worshippers. The lady was dressed in black lace, strangely fashioned. Though she was small, her step and carriage, slow and gracious as she moved and spoke, were queenly. She was a dazzling blonde, somewhat restored and not beautiful, as one saw her nearer. The striking point in her costume — and there was but one — was that the upper part of her corsage, or yoke, was made entirely of fresh violets, bringing their perfume with them. Everyone, artists and their friends, ceased their examination of the pictures, and openly gazed, murmuring their pride and joy in their idol, Sarah Bernhardt…”

Excerpt from the memoir of the American portrait painter Cecilia Beaux

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Quand Même, the motto of Sarah Bernhardt, can be translated in different ways but, in this case, it means Nevertheless. There may be difficulties on the path of life. Nevertheless, they will be overcome.

 

 

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One of the reasons for Sarah’s early success was that she was different in appearance.  While the beauty canon favored women of substance, she was thin. Where fashion dictated sculptured hairdos, Sarah’s hair was an uncontrollable puff of frizzy hair. Her Jewish nose was a little too prominent and her complexion a little too white. This difference, instead of being a burden, made her stand apart and therefore be noticed. Her thespian talent, along with her flamboyant personality, both on and off the stage, did the rest. In fact, there was no difference between the theater and the off-stage for wherever she was, Sarah never ceased to perform.

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Seduction was  Sarah’s main weapon on the road to fame. Seduction of the theatre critics, seduction of the theatre-goers, seduction of the press. And if the press reacted in a contrary way, that was good too. She was the first one to understand that bad publicity was better than none.

 

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Poster of Sarah as Hamlet. Sarah was not afraid to show her legs in a male hero’s role. She was not afraid of anything. Be it a trip in an air balloon or a crocodile chase, she’d say “yes” to an exciting proposition. Ever aware of the power of advertising, Sarah chose an artistic association with the Czech painter Alphonse Mucha whose posters are still on sale today

 

A true Renaissance woman, Sarah had a second source of income: painting and sculpture. She was an excellent sculptor, to the point of making Rodin jealous. “She has the audacity to show this filth,” he was heard saying at one of her shows.  Really, Monsieur Rodin? Let’s scroll down to see what the venerable Master considered filthy:

 

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The Death of Ophelia by Sarah Bernhardt

 

Like the queen she was, Sarah had her court. Every change of place meant the shifting of a great many objects, animals, and people. In her Paris apartment, she kept a small zoo, which accompanied her on her travels. The live alligator Ali Baba and a coffin featured among her luggage.

 

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Sarah in her coffin. A publicity stunt, no doubt about it, the photo made the round of the world. Sarah kept the coffin in her bedroom and claimed she slept in it.  She died for real some forty years after this picture was taken.

 

Sarah was a woman of prodigious energy. As the manager of a theatre of which she was the principal attraction, she had little time for rest. She would see the author of a new play at two in the morning because that was the only time she could find in her busy schedule. Trips abroad meant careful planning and an exercise in logistics. While everything was done to make travel as comfortable as possible—a special train containing a luxury wagon for Sarah alone was the standard—the conditions in the place were often primitive. She would play in circus tents, suffer cold in unheated dressing rooms, go hungry when food was not readily available, and she would forge ahead quand même. Her support staff might suffer from exhaustion but Sarah would take it all in a stride with one lung, one kidney and, toward the end of her life, with only one leg.

 

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Sarah during one of her overseas travels

 

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In the American West, cowboys greet Sarah (on the right, in the dark coat) on her arrival. Later, during the performance, they would manifest their enthusiasm with aiming shots at the ceiling

 

Sarah lived long enough to appear in the early movies. She hated to see herself on the screen: stripped of her voice, of her three-dimensional personality, and her interaction with the public, she was nothing more than an unappetizing shadow of her true self. By that time, she already suffered from an excruciating pain in her leg. Furniture had to be strategically placed on the scene so that there would always be a point of support where she could take the weight off her aching leg. As her agony grew beyond endurance, she opted for amputation.

 

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Being without a leg at the age of seventy did not slow Sarah down. She purchased a portable chair and off she went to war.  Since the Franco-Prussian War, forty years earlier, Sarah harbored a hatred for the Germans. The French troops needed to be cheered up with a good tragedy play.

 

Sarah died of uremia after an agony that was partly caught on film. She left behind an unfinished movie she was making during her last illness. Ever the hard worker, she took only three days off work to die. She was seventy-eight.

I purposefully left out Sarah’s rich private life which would need a separate post. To understand her drive for success, it is necessary to say that she was the neglected child of a Dutch courtesan. Her father could have been any of the rich and famous men her mother had serviced, among them Rossini, Dumas the Elder, or the Emperor’s half-brother, the Duke de Morny. It was to the latter that the mother turned for advice concerning the future of her awkward teenage offspring. It was he who suggested the stage.  And it was there, on the stage, that Sarah found the love, the adoration, she missed in her childhood.

In my opinion, the truly successful women of that age had this in common: they were mostly illegitimate, without the father’s authority figure. They had a wide range of freedom and their talent was not stifled by the bourgeois set of morals.

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And now some free advertising: The model in the picture Sarah is painting is the protagonist of the novel Fame and Infamy by the author of this post. More on the sidebar.

 

 

 

 

Related post:

The Franco-Prussian War is described in The Bloodbath of the Paris Commune

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The postcard became a widely popular item during the Universal Exhibition of 1889 when a card representing the Eiffel Tower was sold at 300,000 copies.

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A postcard shop near the Louvre

The first postcard made its official appearance in 1869 Austria. The French adopted the idea as an emergency measure one year later, during the Siege of Paris, when mail was sent and received via air balloons and the weight of the envelopes became an issue. In 1872, a law validated the use of the postcard as a permissible means of postal communication. This was not yet the case in some other countries and the French cards contained a warning.

Until 1875, the postcard remained a monopoly of the postal administration. After this date, national or private cards were published with a free side which could contain pictures.

While artistic pictures of Paris monuments and impressive boulevards were among the bestsellers, others were bought and sent: the pictures of Paris without makeup. The one below, titled Rue Mouffetard on a Sunday Morning offers the sight of working-class Parisians enjoying the fresh air that had been denied to them during the weekdays. Sunday in Paris was not,  as the Anglo-Saxons tourists expected, spent in church and prayers. The people of Paris were out for fun.

 

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These are not elegant Parisians taking air in open carriages on the Champs Elyseés as you would expect on a postcard from Paris

 

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Someone had found this picture of a lounging middle-class couple of enough interest to purchase it and stick a stamp on it

 

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Curios sold too: At 55-inch width, this was the smallest house in Paris

 

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Shops with character were liked as well

 

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A rag lady was mailed by someone interested in the small entrepreneurs of Paris

 

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But it was no surprise to anyone that seductive ladies figured on les cartes postales de Paris

 

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Even the top courtesans of the Belle Epoque found themselves in the mailbag. Here is the dancer Otéro whose breasts inspired the cupolas of the famous Hotel Negresco in Nice

 

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The postman himself had his purchasers. It seems that everything, even the most ordinary, was of interest to our ancestors

 

Related posts:

Paris Mail: Look for the Blue Light

The Pilgrims and the Sinners: The Sunday in Paris

 

 

 

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The Moulin Rouge. Polychrome photo, 1914

 

With nearly 600,000 visitors every year, Moulin Rouge is in the top ten must-see items on the tourist’s list. Located at the bottom of a hill in the Montmartre neighborhood—then a semi-rural setting favored by artists—Moulin Rouge opened its doors in 1889 to offer champagne-filled parties during which remarkable dancers and singers performed. Very soon, the establishment became world-famous for a scandalous dance called the can-can. No one has described the can-can in better words than Mark Twain here.

 

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With enough champagne bottles emptied, spectators found themselves willing participants on the dance floor that was installed to admire the performers up close. The great painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, immortalized these scenes of night-time delirium in some of his famous works. It is mainly thanks to Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters, that the two most colorful Moulin Rouge dancers remain in our consciousness.

 

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Moulin Rouge’s top star La Goulue with the silhouette of her dance partner Valentin the Boneless

 

 

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No less popular is this Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster featuring Jane Avril

 

The two women had only one thing in common: they both excelled on the dance floor. La Goulue, low-born and vulgar, was the prototype of the working-class girl found in the dancing halls. Louise Weber—her real name— was born in 1868 and passed to posterity as La Goulue for her greedy behavior: she liked to empty the guests’ glasses that stood within her reach.   The other dancers did not fare any better as to the choice of their nom d’artiste. There was the Cheese Kid, the Sewer Grid, or Nini the Paws-in-the-Air. This joyful band was not impressed with royalty. “Hey, Wales,” La Goulue addressed the heir to the British throne, “the champagne is in your name so is it you who pays or is your Mama [Queen Victoria] inviting us?”

 

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La Goulue’s sensual, provocative body corresponded to the taste of the time that appreciated generous femininity.

 

 

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La Goulue entering the Moulin-Rouge. 1892. Lautrec painted her with a smirk on her face that is difficult to interpret: is it the arrogance of a diva or simple tiredness?

 

 

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Toulouse-Lautrec remained La Goulue’s friend well after her triumphs. In this picture, they sit side by side with La Môme Fromage (the Cheese Kid) opposite

 

Soon, La Goulue ceased to please and turned to her painter-friend for help. Now self-employed, she would sell her renown in the fairgrounds.  To recall her prestigious past, Lautrec painted two large panels exposed on the front of her fairground hut.  A few years later, when in debt, she had to sell these panels and they were cut into smaller canvasses by a greedy merchant.  In 1929, they were bought and restored by the Louvre and can be seen at the Musée d’Orsay.

 

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La Goulue’s fairground hut with panels painted by Toulouse-Lautrec

 

The next adventure began in 1900 when La Goulue married. With her husband, a magician in trade, she learned to tame wild beasts.  Unfortunately, they were both assaulted during the show.

 

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By that time, La Gouloue’s life was on a sharp downward slide. Her husband was shot in 1914, the victim of a German bullet in the WW1. Her son, who she claimed was fathered by a prince, died at 27.

 

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La Goulue with her son Simon

 

deathShe lived miserably in a caravan, where she gathered ailing circus animals, and she returned to the Moulin Rouge for financial support. She was allowed to sell peanuts and cigarettes on the sidewalk. Now and then, she’d get drunk and shout: “I’m La Goulue! Can’t you see it? I was the greatest star here!”

The newspapers announced La Goulue’s death in 1929.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jane Avril by Edgar Chahine

 

 

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Jane Avril, charcoal sketch by Picasso

Born near Paris, but seemingly coming from another planet, was Jane Avril, the other celebrated Moulin Rouge star. Strange and mysterious, she did not need the raw sensuality of La Goulue to seduce her audience. She’d come and go as she pleased –no salaried employment for her—and simply danced with every nerve in her body. Except for that, she had nothing in common with the other dancers. They did not understand her and they did not like her. For them, she was Mad Jane. But Mad Jane did not care. She found her friends and lovers in intellectual circles.  She could marry if she wanted to for there were willing takers but she loved her freedom.

 

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Toulouse-Lautrec: Jane Avril Leaving the Moulin Rouge, a lonely, mysterious figure

 

Her story of an enfant-martyre explains a lot. Born Jeanne Beaudon, in 1868, to a Second Empire courtesan, and fathered by an Italian aristocrat to whom she was an embarrassment, she was first brought up by her maternal grandparents. Her life took a turn for the worse when her sadistic mother decided that Jane should live with her in Paris. She was nine when she entered hell. Today, Jane’s mother would be identified as a dangerous psychopath but the science in Jane’s childhood did not yet reach that stage. Nor did the social services function as they do today. The children, then, were the property of their parents. Several people knew that Jane was beaten at least twice a day for invented offenses, but none reported the abuse to the police. It was just not done. The constant stress had to show somewhere and Jane developed a chorea minor, then referred to as Saint Vitus Dance. It is a nervous disorder characterized by rapid, involuntary jerking movements. At fourteen, she ran away from home. Finally, she found herself in a madhouse and happy as a lark. One can fully appreciate the degree of her suffering when a child finds the madhouse a step above her home.

In her biography, Jane relates that during a musical entertainment at the hospital, she suddenly got up and began to dance. In front of her audience’s eyes, she changed from a timid, shivering nonentity into a graceful nymph. Her condition improved and, soon, she was released to her mother’s care. She ran away—for good— at sixteen to live with a student. She gave all of herself to this first love, only to find herself betrayed. This was too heavy a load for her fragile constitution. Immediately after the discovery, she ran toward the Seine to jump from a bridge. A prostitute talked her out of the idea. Jane spent that night in a brothel. The next day the inmates went to a public ball, taking their new protégé with them.

 

avrilThe public ball was Jane’s second awakening. From then on, her life became divided in two: a day job to keep her from hunger and a night life to keep away her demons. Her talent led to prestigious theatrical engagements when an exceptional dance number was needed and, for a time, she was the ambassador of French can-can in London and in Madrid. Her poise, grace, and intelligence made her a welcome guest at dinner parties. A friend of novelists, dramatists, artists, philosophers, and scientists, she also captured the heart of Toulouse-Lautrec who saw in her a sister soul. He too was a victim of physical suffering. He, too, had an unusual childhood. They remained friends until the painter’s premature death.

 

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Such was Jane Avril’s status in the world of entertainment that her presence in the audience recommended any show (poster by Toulouse-Lautrec)

 

In her forties, Jane finally settled down to sixteen years of quiet married life. She died in 1943 at the age of seventy-five.

 

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beraud

The advertising columns have been an integral part of the Paris boulevard landscape. They hide a story

In The French Art of Drinking without Getting Drunk, we read that Parisians consumed large quantities of drink in public places. It follows that they had to frequently part with excess liquid. Before 1834, they could avail themselves of the services of self-appointed street hygienists who, clad in a leather apron, paced the public places offering a pail. However, money wasted on the men in leather aprons could be better spent on more drinking, and, besides, the pee-man himself could be lounging in some café and drinking away his earnings. Most men simply relieved themselves where the need overtook them and the city stank.

earlu

An early public urinal in alloy

Around 1770, an order was issued to homeowners to install wooden barrels at street corners to serve as urinals. These were useful, but they lacked sophistication and, often, they lacked altogether. In 1834, the Paris City Hall introduced the first public urinals. Unlike the barrels and the men with pails, they were always there, and they were free. The expense of caring for 478 public conveniences proved to be ruinous to the city budget; they needed to generate some income. In 1839, a new design was introduced: an advertising column with the urinal inside. It was a superb idea. By 1868, street columns appeared that served only for advertising and they have been a part of the Parisian street furniture to this day.

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A successful new version added advertising

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The columns generated so much income that their dual function was abandoned and the urinal design developed separately. This one served five men at once

 

The website Vintage Everyday offers a diverting gallery of the Parisian pissotières in all their surprising variety.

 

Related posts:

The French Art of Drinking without Getting Drunk

The Government of Paris Will Sell Your Crinoline

The Government of Paris: A Success Story

 

 

 

 

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