July 24, 2014

Caddy Rowland - Making History, Bohemian Style (Part 7)

Please welcome back historical fiction author and artist, Caddy Rowland, our monthly contributor here at Historical Fiction Connection.

Au Lapin Agile

Last month I blogged about one of the two most popular places for artists to hang out during the whole bohemian era. The other was a notorious, raucous cabaret named Au Lapin Agile. Au Lapin Agile had been in existence since around 1850. People often gathered there for sing-alongs. Bawdy, graphic songs about bawdy, graphic subjects sometimes were the songs chosen. Inflammatory political songs were also popular. Other times French chansons (love songs) ruled the night.

The Au Lapin Agile had a variety of clientele. Wagoneers with their knives stuck in the table tops as they drank, local villagers, artists, writers, pimps, down and outers and anarchists all gathered there. The name of the place was Cabaret Das Assassins for awhile because a band of assassins broke in and killed the owner’s son. For most of the nineteenth century, it was a rough place to hang out.

In 1875 an artist named Andre Gill painted a sign that hung outside the building. A rabbit in a chef hat jumping out of a saucepan was the theme; a tribute to one of the dishes served there. Le Lapin a Gill, which meant "Gill's Rabbit”, was soon what most people called the cabaret. The name evolved into Cabaret Au Lapin Agile (The Nimble Rabbit Cabaret). Most simply called it Au Lapin Agile or Lapin Agile. It became even more popular with artists, but still also drew the same questionable crowd in addition to those slumming it for an evening of daring fun.

Andre Gill’s Artwork for the Cabaret

There is conflicting information on who owned this cabaret during most of its history. Some information shows a woman owned it for awhile (during the time the sign was painted). She had been a singer at another venue. Other references say the artist who painted the sign (Andre Gill) owned it for a time. Whoever owned it did little to discourage nefarious sorts from frequenting the place, but they were also very generous to artists.

Paintings could be exchanged for a meal. At the end of the night any artist who had no money to eat would be given soup. Artists were allowed to become as drunk as they wished, fight, and eventually pass out at one of the tables. They were not to be disturbed. Police weren’t called. The artists would find their way out in the morning.

Painters, writers, comedians, sculptors, poets, musicians and singers all hung out at Au Lapin Agile toward the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Ownership had changed and a man named Frédé ran it. A previous cabaret owner, he also used to push a wagon of goods around town. Therefore, he owned a donkey. The donkey was allowed to roam around the various tables in front of the cabaret, as was a flea bitten dog. Frédé would play his guitar or cello most nights. Patrons once again sang along.

Frédé playing his guitar

In the early 1900's Picasso also made Au Lapin Agile a favorite haunt. He did a painting titled Au Lapin Agile in which he was represented as a harlequin. Frédé is shown playing the guitar. It belonged to the cabaret and Frédé sold the painting in 1912 for $20! In 1989 it was auctioned for $40.7 MILLION dollars.

Au Lapin Agile by Pablo Picasso

Forty million would buy quite a few rounds of drinks—and perhaps feed a donkey and dog as well.

*Au Lapin Agile still exists today. They put on evening shows in the old French style.

Historical Fiction by Caddy Rowland: 

Contact and Social Media Info. For Caddy Rowland:

Author Email: caddyauthor@gmail.com
Twitter: @caddyorpims

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