Cultural history


The Rue des Moulins dates back to 1624 and is located in the first arrondissement of the city. Two windmills once stood on the hill – hence Rue des Moulins and nearby Rue Saint-Honoré which is dedicated to the patron saint (Honorius of Amiens) of millers, bakers, pastry chefs, and confectioners. One of the windmills, the Moulin Radet was dismantled and rebuilt at the junction of Rue Lepic and Rue Girardon in Monmartre. The notoriety of the street was established during the last decade of the nineteenth century. That was largely due to the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a post-Impressionist painter and illustrator whose immersion in the theatrical life of Paris yielded a series of provocative images of the extravagant 1890s life-style of the capital. Prostitution is central to his oeuvre.


Prostitutes play a central role in the European novel of the nineteenth-century century. There are Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Dickens’s Nancy, Collins’s Mercy Merrick, Gaskell’s Ruth, Hugo’s Fantine, Dumas’s Marguerite Gautier, De Maupassant’s Elisabeth Rousset, Zola’s Nana, Fontane’s Effi Briest, Wedekind’s Lulu, to mention but a few of the ‘fallen women’ that appear in realistic and naturalistic novels of the age. Prostitutes inspired many negative stereotypes. However, as victims of a culture that marginalized her, the prostitute offered a perfect vehicle for writers to criticize bourgeois hypocrisy. The interest in the world of brothels and courtisanes extends well into the twentieth century and is not limited to literature.

Hungarian photographer and filmmaker George Brassaï (real name: Gyula Halász) published photographs of brothels in his 1935 book Voluptés de Paris. In 1952, Robert Miquet (using the pseudonym Romi) published a voluminous illustrated work on Maisons closes: l’histoire, l’art, la littérature, les moeurs. Released in 2002, the Parisian Musée de l’Érotisme exhibits Polissons et galipettes (Rascals and somersaults), Michel Reilhac’s compilation of film clips from silent pornographic films made between 1905 and 1930 in France that were intended to be shown in brothels.


Ever since the works of Titian and Giorgione, paintings of brothels and prostitutes appear frequently over the centuries. In many cases the bond between artist and sitter was a close one. Margaret Lemans was of Flemish descent and had settled in London some time in 1629. Little is known of her life, even the spelling of her name is in doubt – but her image will last. She was probably still in her teens and working as a prostitute when Anthony van Dyck made Margaret his mistress allowing her to preside over his grand properties in Blackfriars and Eltham where he entertained Charles I and many noble patrons.


Van Dyck has been the most successful immigrant artist ever to arrive on British soil. The English were so overwhelmed by his talent that they were willing to forgive his Catholicism. In fact, most of his clients were Puritans and nobody more so than Philip, Lord Wharton, who bought no less than twenty paintings of the master. While noble women were queuing up to have their portrait painted by Van Dyck, the master himself was completely taken in by an ordinary Flemish girl who had been forced to make a living out of prostitution. He painted her image over and again. Twelve of the paintings for which she posed survive, five of which are portraits. It is not the subject matter that is relevant in this context, but the intimacy between artist and model. It appears that such a caring relationship is in no way exceptional. Artists identify with prostitutes because the creative mind tends to be abused by society in a similarly exploitative and disposable fashion. There is an element of mutual recognition, the artist realizing that Anch’io sono [una] puttana.


Toulouse-Lautrec was born in 1864 into the provincial interbred aristocracy of Albi, in south-western France. At the age of thirteen, he broke his left femur, and a year later, he broke his right, after which his legs stopped growing (possibly a consequence of pyknodysostosis, a genetic disease of the bone, related to his family’s consanguineous marriages). During his long convalescence, he spent much of his time drawing and painting. He persuaded his parents to allow him to go to Paris. In 1882 he entered the atelier of Léon Bonnat, transferring later to Fernand Cormon’s studio where he met his lifelong friends Louis Anquetin, Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh.

His first illustrations were published in 1886 in the Montmartrois journals Le Courrier français and Le Mirliton. His subsequent work is intimately connected to this lively Parisian district where he focused on the life of the dance halls, cafés and concert halls. He created his first lithograph, the famous poster ‘La Goulue’, for the Moulin Rouge in December 1891 and went on to design a further twenty-nine posters as well as hundreds of prints, drawings and paintings.

Catalan-born bookmaker Joseph Oller (inventor of ‘Parimutuel’ betting which spread across most race tracks around the world) lived in Paris for most of his life. From 1876 onwards, he focused his attention on the entertainment industry. He opened various venues such as Fantaisies Oller, La Bombonnière, Théâtre des Nouveautés, Nouveau Cirque, Montagnes Russes, and Olympia (the first music-hall in Paris). In 1889 he inaugurated the famous Moulin Rouge. He also managed Le Jardin de Paris, a café-concert on the Champs Élysées, which was the summer outpost of the Moulin Rouge. Both establishments are associated with Jane Avril and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Lautrec portrayed Jane’s debut at the Jardin. A beautiful and extremely thin girl with pale skin and tresses of red gold hair, Jane Avril soon became infamous for performing the cancan at the Jardin. Lautrec had been employed to produce an advertising illustration. The couple, in spite of their different backgrounds, soon became close friends. Jane (originally named Jeanne) was said to be the daughter of a courtesan, with an absent father rumoured to have been a foreign aristocrat. Her youth was an unhappy and abusive one. She left home when she was thirteen years old, soon afterwards ending up in the care of the Salpêtrière psychiatric hospital in Paris, a desperate place where many ‘bad’ women were imprisoned without trial or sent by their families. Throughout her life she suffered from nervous disorders. These however did not interrupt a glittering career.

Lautrec painted her time and again, and in various moods and poses, glamorous, graceful, melancholic, tired, or nervous. It is doubtful that the two ever became lovers. Lautrec had his own inhibitions and insecurities. In 1899, suffering from the effects of alcoholism and syphilis, he was institutionalized for several months at an asylum near Paris but he returned to drinking soon after his release. On 9 September 1901, he suffered a stroke and died at his mother’s estate, the Château de Malromé, aged thirty-six.

For a period Lautrec resided at no. 24 Rue des Moulins. This was the address of a luxurious brothel, a ‘grande tolérance’ consisting of ornate rooms including a Chinese salon, a Gothic chamber, and a domed Moorish Hall. It was a well-run business, operated to strict rules of conduct, and proper schedules. Despite his aristocratic upbringing, Toulouse-Lautrec found a way to accept and feel accepted by the entertainment industry. Sex workers were his friends, and he treated them as equals.
He produced more than forty paintings and drawings of the inhabitants of Rue des Moulins. It must be the most famous brothel in the world.

By the end of the nineteenth century, there were some 34,000 professional ‘filles à numéro’ (prostitutes) registered in Paris. The brothels were licensed and monitored by the police, while sex workers were subject to routine medical inspections by the ‘dispensaire de salubrité’. The majority of women were forced into prostitution in order to look after themselves and/or family. Job prospects were scarce. Alexandre Parent-Duchatlet noted in his famous 1836 study De la prostitution dans la ville de Paris that few professions were open to women. For many, prostitution was sheer survivalism. Prostitution was a profitable trade by which women improved their circumstances, helped to educate siblings and often saved enough to open a shop or lodging house.

At one time, a job as a seamstress was a respected position. Honour was an important draw as it could help to better marriage prospects. More often than not, seamstresses worked out of their own homes, choosing which assignments to take or leave. The down sides to becoming a seamstress were poor pay and a two year apprenticeship. Many families who needed their daughters to work could not afford two years of lost wages. Hence, the job of a seamstress was reserved to the relatively well-to-do. All that changed after the (belated) industrialization of France. Mechanization and foreign competition led the demise of the skilled artisans who were previously employed in those trades. This change occurred first and most dramatically in the textile industry in centres such as Normandy and Rouen. The skilled and gentle seamstress of former days now became a low class factory worker often with questionable morals. For many decades, the seamstress had been romanticized as a paragon of female virtue. The idealized image would soon be shattered. Hardship took its toll. Prostitution offered a far more profitable trade which took considerable moral strength to resist. The figure of the whore hovered behind the poverty-stricken seamstress, and they ultimately represented two halves of the same whole.


The connection is highlighted by Guy de Maupassant in La Maison Tellier (1881). The brothel is located in the small town of Fécamp, Normandy. Madame herself came of a respectable peasant family. The town accepts her business without moral condemnation. Locals simply say: ‘It is a paying profession’. The irony of the story is located in the interplay between the notion of ‘a good job’ and the conventional accusation of immorality. The revealing remark is that Madame had accepted her position as a bordello-keeper without prejudice, as if she might have taken up that of a milliner or a seamstress. The association of the profession with prostitution is also suggested by Jean Béraud in his delightful (undated) Impressionist painting ‘La modiste sur Les Champs Élysées’.


Toulouse Lautrec’s painting‘L’inspection médicale, Rue des Moulins’ dates from 1894. He created this scene from personal observations. In a room richly decorated with autumnal colours and Chinese patterns, two women stand in line. One is blonde and more mature than her smaller red-haired colleague. Both have lifted their chemises above their knee-length stockings to reveal naked buttocks and thighs. With her dress gathered in front to preserve what remains of her dignity, the blonde looks tired and resigned. The younger woman is more assertive. With bright red hair and rouged cheeks she approaches her assignation without inhibition. A third woman in a turquoise kimono walks away from them towards a group of people below a large window through which can be seen a clock tower (perhaps the nearby Bibliothèque Nationale!).


Lautrec paints these women without moralism, sentimentality, or contempt. Despite his personal carnal pursuits as a paying client in the house, there is no erotic exploitation, no sensationalism. He simply records the medical routine to which these women were submitted. Physical examinations served to protect upright citizens from the physical and mental ravages of syphilis, one of the blessings Columbus had brought back to Europe from the New World. The first written records of an outbreak of syphilis in Europe occurred in 1494/5 in Naples during a French invasion. The disease may have been transmitted to the French via Spanish mercenaries serving under King Charles during that siege. During the Renaissance syphilis, generally known as the ‘French disease’, was a major cause of death in Europe. The term was first applied in 1530 by physician and poet Girolamo Fracastoro in his epic poem Syphilis sive morbus gallicus. There, the shepherd Syphilis is punished by Apollo with the disease for his defiant attitude. From this character the poet derived the medical term which he introduced in his medical study on contagious diseases De contagionibus. Other names in circulation were great pox, lues venereal, or Cupid’s disease. It was not until 1905 that the causative organism was first identified which led to more effective forms of treatment. Until the advent of penicillin in 1943, ‘cures’ for syphilis were based on the use of heavy metals such as mercury or, as the saying goes, ‘a night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury’.

In Europe during the nineteenth century syphilis took on epidemic forms. More than fifteen per cent of the adult population and seventy per cent of sex workers were estimated to have been infected with the disease. In Britain, this led to moral panic during the 1850s and 1860s. The response was a sustained campaign to drive ‘fallen women’ from the streets by representing them as a depraved element in society, doomed to disease and death. Refuges were opened and men like future Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone patrolled at night to persuade girls to leave their life of ‘vice’. The introduction of the Contagious Diseases Acts whereby prostitute women were medically examined and detained if deemed to suffer from venereal disease gave rise to a notable reform campaign. Josephine Butler’s anti-contagious diseases movement argued that enforced medical examinations effectively encouraged prostitution and did not prevent the curse of syphilis. In the nineteenth century syphilis was known as the artist’s disease. A whole alphabet of outstanding creators and thinkers suffered or died from the affliction, Baudelaire, Beau Brummell, Delius, Donizetti, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Heine, Keats, Manet, De Maupassant, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Schubert, Smetana, Tolstoy, Vrubel, Wilde, Wolf, and many others. Toulouse-Lautrec painted this world which prompted Edgar Degas to make the crude observation that some of Toulouse-Lautrec’s female portraits ‘stank of syphilis’.


Plaza Dorrego is a square in the heart of San Telmo, the oldest barrio (district) of the city. It is named after statesman and soldier Manuel Dorrego who, in the 1820s, twice acted as Governor of Buenos Aires. In the nineteenth century, it was the main residential area of the city and Plaza Dorrego was its focal point. Located at the intersection of Humberto Primero and Defensa streets, its surroundings are full of bars where musicians and dancers perform tango exhibitions. Both the 1997 drama film The Tango Lesson by British director Sally Potter, and the 2002 crime film Assassination Tango produced and directed by Robert Duvall (who also stars in the movie), were shot in the locality.

The sensual plasticity of the tango has inspired numerous contemporary painters. Brazilian-born Juarez Machado settled in Rio de Janeiro in 1966. In a number of paintings he has been able to grasp the grace and embrace of the dance. One of the strongest painted images is Mariano Otero’s ‘Tango de Passion’.

Born in Madrid but living in France, the tango is a recurring theme in his works. Apparently, he is unable to dance the tango himself, but he has captured its essence with an understanding touch. The intimacy of the dance is reflected in an idiomatic expression. It takes two to tango (at times used with negative connotations) suggests that certain activities cannot be performed alone, making love, fighting a duel, playing ping pong, or dance the tango. The 1952 song ‘Takes Two to Tango’ was written by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning. It has the following catching refrain:

Takes two to tango, two to tango
Two to really get the feeling of romance.
Lets do the tango, do the tango
Do the dance of love.

Two different versions, one by Pearl Bailey and the other by Louis Armstrong, made it a hit in that same year. In Australia, during the 1930s, the phrase was used to indicate premarital sex. Tango and eroticism are inextricably linked.

Tango is the manifestation of an immigrant culture. It is impossible to reconstruct its history, because there are no written sources. Its roots are multiple. Both tango music and dance have indirect African, Cuban, and Andalusian influences, added to regional music and popular lyrics. The word itself is of African origin, meaning drums or dance. The Argentine Tango developed between 1860 and 1890 in Buenos Aires. It emerged out of the immigrant culture of Argentina’s dockside slums, on the shores of the Riachuelo River, and in clubs and brothels of southern Buenos Aires. The social class in which it developed was a mixture of regional people and European immigrants made up by sailors, craftsmen and workers. They frequented the establishments to escape the daily pressures of life and loneliness and identified with lyrics that expressed the hardship of life. It was danced by pairs of men, sometimes by prostitutes and their companions. The steps are sexual and aggressive, the music permeated with longing and despair, as the dancers act out the ritualistic relationship of prostitute and pimp. Buenos Aires society considered tango to be a ‘reptile from the brothels’, an indecent entertainment associated with violence and illicit sex. Clubs where the tango was danced were raided and closed by police. But its progress was unstoppable. The first tango bands were trios, which included a flute, violin and guitar players.

Towards the end of 1890 the bandoneon (a German import) was added to the line-up, sometimes replacing the flute. However, it appears to be that bands changed constantly and they were formed by whoever showed up on the day of the performance. The first tangos lacked lyrics and the musicians improvized them on the spot. The words were more often than not vulgar or obscene. The tango was a song of the streets. Some time later it spread to the city and arrived at places like the Café Tarana, known as Café Hansen, and other more upmarket resorts. It was only then that women started to take part in the dance. In 1904, the legendary Casimiro Ain (son of a Basque immigrant) appeared at the Opera Theatre in Buenos Aires as a dancer of tango joined by his wife. The dance had gained some respectability at last – but it would take some time for the tango to lose its familiar associations with brawls and brothels.

French-born immigrant Carlos (Charles) Gardel is a prominent figure in the history of the tango. He was born in December 1890 out of wedlock. Berthe Gardès left Toulouse not long after in order to escape the social stigma of being an unmarried mother. She and baby arrived in Buenos Aires on 11 March 1893. Carlos grew up and spent most of his life in the Abasto area of the city where, outside the Abasto Market, a statue honours his career and legacy (the local underground station carries his name as well). During his lifetime he was known as ‘El Morocho del Abasto’ (the dark-haired guy from Abasto). Together with lyricist and long-time collaborator Alfredo Le Pera, Gardel wrote many classic tangos. His baritone voice and dramatic phrasing of lyrics made an enormous impact on his audience (on women in particular). With more than 800 records to his name he was the soul of tango and a cultural hero who made the dance Argentina’s national treasure. Gardel died in an airplane crash at the height of his career (and so did Le Pera). Millions of his fans went into mourning. The popularity of the tango hit Europe just before World War One. Its introduction into France, England and elsewhere sparked a controversy that had been at the heart of European musical appreciation throughout the ages.

Boethius’s De institutione musica was one of the first musical works to be printed in Venice in 1491/2. It was written toward the beginning of the sixth century and shaped music in Europe for several centuries. Boethius came to be viewed as a primary authority on Greek musical thought. In the first chapter of De musica, the author stresses that music can both establish and destroy morality. The ears are a direct path to the soul for the formation of a moral awareness. When rhythms and modes have penetrated the soul, they affect the psyche with their own character. For that reason, socio-cultural observers have treated music and dance with suspicion. An effective means for disrupting civilized society is through a music that inordinately stimulates the passions. The Christian Church has been a persistent critic of song and dance. Early penance books more often than not contain admonishments against such forms of entertainment. Associating dance with promiscuity, Protestant reformers viewed it with a mixture of fear and resentment. Shoes were made for walking, not dancing. Dance cannot be enjoyed without ‘evil communications’. Hence, music was the work of the devil, and its demoniac power had caught many – especially women – by means of a disturbing sensual power. The nineteenth century novel presents the reader with a procession of women who are seduced into adultery under the influence of music (Wagner’s music in particular). Many cultural critics paid tribute to Plato who had banished music from his commonwealth.

The history of dance is a confrontational one. With its introduction in Europe jazz was regularly identified with the ‘spirit of the times’. Jazz as an expression of the age formed the essence of many articles and essays during the 1920s. Precisely the same had happened in earlier days with the introduction of other styles of music and dance such as the waltz, polka, and tango. Music reflected the acceleration of life, the intensity of urban existence, the sexualization of society. Composers established the link between creative activity and the demands of modernity. In 1869, C. Apitius created a waltz (opus 37) which he called ‘Der Zeitgeist’. The catalogue of copyright entries for the year 1909 of the Library of Congress makes mention of the ‘Zeitgeist Walzer’ for piano solo by G. Marschal-Loepke. The growing passion for music and dance since the nineteenth century was symptomatic of a more general craving for excitement. Critics pointed to the danger of a culture that elevates the hearing of sound over the listening to sense. Linguists argued that the word ‘ball’ is a corruption of brawl: during the Renaissance the French court dance, the ‘branle’, was known in England as the brawl or brawle. Time and again, dance ignited social controversy. Puritans had related dance to the devil, later social observers were shocked by the wickedness of the waltz, the wildness of the polka, or the lustfulness of the Charleston. Dancing, it was feared, would break all sexual taboos. When in the summer of 1816, for the first time, the waltz was included at a ball given by the Price Regent, an editorial in The Times protested that this intoxicating import from the Continent was an ‘obscene display … confined to prostitutes and adulteresses’.

Traditionally there have been various links between music and literature. It is unusual (although not exceptional) that we can identify literary influences that have shaped the history of dance. The first recorded use of the word ‘walzen’ goes back to the second act of a comedy written by the Viennese author Johann Joseph Felix von Kurz entitled Bernardon auf der Gelseninsel (1750). However, the European passion for the waltz was ignited by the immense success of Goethe’s epistolary novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774). The novel was held responsible for popularizing the waltz and for bringing the fashion to France during the years preceding the Revolution. The hero and narrator of the novel dances a waltz and falls in love with Lotte, a young lady engaged to another man. The ecstasy of the dance and the pain of passionate but unfulfilled love is the cause of Werther’s sufferings. The theme of the novel gave rise to a wide debate on ‘Werther-walzer’ in which sensuality, moral corruption and mental health were the main issues of contention.

In 1913, a new fashion swept over Europe. It had all started in Buenos Aires, took America by storm, before arriving in Paris. Tangomania grabbed the Continent: 1913 was the Year of the Tango. One of the musicians responsible for the rage for this dance in Paris was Casimiro Ain. That year he had left Buenos Aires with three other musicians on board the steamship ‘Sierra Ventana’ and sailed to France. They travelled from Boulogne sur Mer to Paris and went straight to Monmartre. They entered the first cabaret club they came across and were invited to perform. They were lucky. The club was ‘La Princesse’ which would later become the famous ‘El Garròn’, run by Argentinian musician Manuel Pizarro and his brothers. The young went mad with enthusiasm; the critics red with outrage. The issue of the Mercure de France of 16 February 1914 called the tango ‘la danse des filles publiques’.

The Argentinian ambassador in Paris, Enrique Rodriguez Laretta, was furious: ‘In Buenos Aires tango is found only in whorehouse and filthy taverns. It is never danced in the respectables lounges, nor between civilized men and women for tango is crude to the ear of any Argentinian worthy of his nation’. King Ludwig of Bavaria forbade his officers to dance the tango, while the Duchess of Norfolk pronounced it to be contrary to English character and manners. The Vatican issued a circular warning the faithful that the tango was ‘offensive to the purity of every right-minded person’. Pope Pius X barred what he called ‘this barbarian dance’. He had his moral instincts in a twist. Shortly after the ban, war broke out. Europe was about to witness levels of barbarity it had never seen before.

Wandering through certain European streets is like turning the pages of an encyclopedia of art. Dating from the sixteenth century, the Via Margutta, a narrow lane near Piazza del Popolo, is one of those streets. In this street one encounters the Fontana delle Arti, designed by the now largely-forgotten architect Pietro Lombardi, which was installed in 1927.

It is one of ten fountains built by the City of Rome in order to celebrate the capital’s neighbourhoods and crafts. The fountain, displaying easels and sculptor’s tools, is topped by a bucket of paint brushes – an appropriate reminder of the street’s lively artistic history. The street became widely known from the 1953 movie Roman Holiday, a romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, which was set at no. 51 Via Margutta. Two doors further down, in 1821, portrait painter Thomas Lawrence had founded the British Academy of Arts in Rome.

The name of the street probably originates frоm the word ‘marisgutia’ (sea drop), a euphemistic name fоr а dirty stream thаt ran down frоm the Pincian Hill. Via Margutta wаs located behind the palaces оf Via del Babuino, where numerous warehouses аnd stables were found. Іn the Middle Ages аn unknown artist opened the fіrst workshop there. Soon after, the finest Roman craftsmen painted portraits, cut marble fоr fountains аnd forged metal plates, giving birth tо а flourishing industry thаt attracted an extraordinary range of foreign artists (to this very day). These immigrants gradually replaced the shacks аnd stables wіth more solid houses, workshops аnd gardens.

On 19 February 1917 Pablo Picasso arrived in Rome for the first time. It was the beginning of a ten week visit that would redefine his art and life. From his room at the Grand Hotel de Russie on Via del Babuino, Picasso could see Villa Medici, home of the French Academy. Corot, Velázquez and Ingres – the painters Picasso admired most – were associated with this sixteenth-century villa of which the artist made sketches and watercolours. Picasso kept a studio at 53B Via Margutta where he produced a large number of designs for ‘Parade’, a ballet with music by Erik Satie and a one-act scenario by Jean Cocteau. The ballet was composed in 1916/7 for Diaghilev’s ‘Ballets Russes’ and Picasso designed the costumes and sets.

In addition, he made several studies for his famous ‘L’italienne’, a Cubist painting of a local woman gazing on a vermillion St Peter’s Basilica in the distance. He also met Olga Khokhlova here, the beginning of a long and unhappy relationship. During the early 1950s, nearly penniless novelist Truman Capote lived in Rome in an expensive penthouse on the Via Margutta.

Willem de Kooning spent the winter of 1959/60 in Rome working in Afro Basaldella’s studio, also on the Via Margutta. At no. 110, close to Piazza del Popolo, is an appartment Federico Fellini shared with actress Giulietta Masina. The street is still very much alive. The festival ‘100 Pittori in Via Margutta’ takes place every year at the end of October and the beginning of November with the aim of showing original works and promote new talent.

In the 1600s, Italy was universally acknowledged to be the home of art. Throughout the century, young Netherlandish artists undertook the difficult journey to Italy, either over the Alps, or sometimes by sea. Most of them headed for Rome, some to Venice, and a few to Genoa and elsewhere. Travel to Italy had become a rite of passage for young artists from the Low Countries after publication of Karel van Mander’s Schilder-Boeck (book of painters) in 1604. A poetical tribute to the city in the 1624 Amsterdam publication Delitiae urbis Romae hails Rome as the miracle and treasure of the world, the city of all cities and a cradle of creativity:

Roomen is des Werrelts wonder,

Roomen is des Werrelts schat:

Roomen is der Steden Stadt.

Roomen sluyt in haer besonder

Wat de Werrelt oyt vermocht:

Is in dit Thresoor gebrocht.

From the beginning of the sixteenth century Dutch, Flemish and some German immigrant artists were referred to as ‘Fiamminghi’ in Italy. They had come there to study and copy the work of the great masters of antiquity – amongst them were such outstanding talents as Jan Gossaert, Jan van Scorel and Maarten van Heemskerck. Once there, they found that their own style of painting was admired by many Italian patrons and they were invited to paint background landscapes on frescoes in churches and estates. In the course of the century their numbers increased. In Venice alone, some 150 Dutch artists lived and worked there during the sixteenth century. Some artist made notable careers. Jan van Scorel was employed by Pope Adrian VI (Utrecht-born Adriaan Florenszoon Boeyens, the last non-Italian Pope until John Paul II, 455 years later);

Bartholomeus Spranger worked for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese; Hendrick van den Broeck joined Giorgio Vasari in the decoration of the Sala Regia of the Vatican. Italy did not just attract painters. Many Flemish luthiers found employment here and their skills were sought after. In early seventeenth century Rome there was street named ‘Via dei Liutari’.

In the early 1670s, Maastricht-born flower painter Carel de Vogelaer moved to Rome. Known as ‘Carlo dei Fiori’, he shared a house with fellow Dutch painter Anthonie Schoonjans in Via Margutta. Both became members of a notorious group of artists who had been active in Rome for half a century. The club of ‘Bentvueghels’ (Birds of a Feather) was formed in the early 1620s by Dutch and Flemish artists for mutual support and company. They grouped together in the parishes of Santa Maria del Popolo, Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, San Lorenzo in Lucina and Santa Lucia della Tinta – the so-called foreigners and artist’s quarter.

The Bentvueghels terrorized Rome for nearly a century, from about 1620 to 1720. They are also known as the ‘Schildersbent’ (painters’ clique). The original members of the group are depicted in a series of drawings made around 1620 (which are held at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam). Among those appearing in the drawings are Van Poelenburch (bentname: Satyr), Bartholomeus Breenbergh (Het Fret), Van Baburen (Biervlieg), Paulus Bor (Orlando) en Cornelis Schut (Brootsaken). The group, which included painters, etchers, sculptors and poets, met for social and artistic reasons, but was notorious for its drunken rituals. The ‘baptism’ ceremonies were grand occasions. Paid for by the initiate, these involved a feast in honour of the new member who was given his bentname. These names often referred to classical gods and heroes, such as Bacchus, Cupid, Hector, Meleager, Cephalus, Pyramus, Orpheus, etc. Sometimes, the nicknames were witty or semi-obscene in keeping with the general activities of the society. Pieter van Laer for example was ‘Il bamboccio’ or ‘ugly puppet’ because of physical deformities.

The celebrations, sometimes lasting several days and nights, concluded with the group staggering to the church of Santa Costanza on the Via Nomentana, , just outside the walls of Rome, to continue their drinking orgies. They had nicknamed it the Temple of Bacchhus after a relief of that God on the sarcophagus. On either side of the casket members scratched their names. This homage of Bacchus has also been recorded in a drawing. The naked figure with leaves on his head in the centre is Bacchus, offering wine to a member. The names scrawled beneath the drawing are the ‘bentnames’ of the artists involved. This practice was finally banned by Pope Clement XI in a decree of 1720, but throughout the duration of the fraternity Bent artists fostered their addiction to wine, women and wild living in drawings and paintings depicting group meetings.

A painting by Roeland van Laer depicts a tableau vivant in which the figures form a drunken pyramid, topped by a prostitute triumphantly balancing a wine jug atop her head as she stands on the shoulders of two men. Over two hundred artists claimed association with the group at one point or another, including many prominent names such as the Italianate landscapist Cornelis van Poelenburgh, Utrecht Caravaggist Dirck van Baburen and Rembrandt pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten. The earliest-known publication listing the members of the Schildersbent was produced by Arnold Houbraken, an artist and engraver who never travelled to Italy, but who used the Bentvueghels membership list as a source for his 1718 study De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen. Whenever possible, he gives the bentname of the painter in his biographical sketches.

The journey to Italy was time consuming. Urecht-born Jan van Bijlert (bentname: Aeneas) was a pupil of Abraham Bloemaert. He was first recorded as staying in Rome in 1621, when he was living in the Via Margutta with three other Netherlandish painters. He was a founding member of the ‘Schildersbent’. He had embarked on his travels around 1616. Often encompassing a difficult and in many cases dangerous journey, artists would literally spend years getting to Italy, using their artistic talents to pay their way. Houbraken in the volume of De groote schouburgh mentions the example of Jan Philip Spalthof who made the journey from Haarlem to Rome on three different occasions travelling on foot. Many of these artistic pilgrims did not make it all the way to Italy, and others never attempted the trip back once they got there. What they had in common by the time they arrived in Rome, was a feeling of confidence in the ability to live by their own work and effort. During the long journey they had gained practical knowledge of selling their paintings and sketches directly to potential clients.

Membership of the Accademia di San Luca (Academy of St Luke) in Rome had little relevance for them. It was a hindrance rather than an encouragement. These immigrant artists ridiculed the current assumption that the artist should be dignified person, and that art can be taught by following a standard set of rules. Initial disputes arose in the 1620s and 1630s when the Bent artists refused to pay voluntary alms (and later a mandatory levy) to the Accademia. Theoreticians such as Salvator Rosa were disgusted at members of the Schildersbent not only for their behaviour, but especially for producing paintings called ‘bambocciades’ of crude every-day life occurrences and for the cues they took from Caravaggio’s realism which proved to be popular amongst Roman customers and sold for high sums of money, thus further undermining the dominance of religious and history painting as well as the authority of the Accademia. In his satire Pittura, Rosa blamed the Bamboccianti for the decline of art, scorning their vulgar images and immoral behaviour. The fact that aristocratic patrons continued to purchase works by these artists was bemoaned by both painters and religious leaders.

The name of Bamboccianti was introduced to characterize the work of genre painters from the Low Countries – many of them were also members of the Bentvueghels. The name originates from Pieter van Laer’s bentname ‘Il bamboccio’. Artists from the Low Countries transposed their home traditions of depicting everyday life images on small size cabinet paintings to the lower classes of Rome and its countryside. Typical subjects include food and beverage sellers, farmers and milkmaids at work, soldiers at rest, beggars and prostitutes. In contrast to the grand Italian baroque style, they introduced rogues, cheats, pickpockets, drunks, gluttons, and prostitutes. To hurt sensitive academic feelings even further, Amsterdam-born the Karel Dujardin liked to place his ‘sordid’ subjects in idealized settings of the Roman Campagna.

Once returned to the Low Countries, artists used their experience in to add an Intalian flavour to their work. Italianate painting was fashionable and made good money on a booming Dutch art market. Italianate artists, such as Nicolaes Berchem, Jan Both, Albert Cuyp, Karel du Jardin, Jan Weenix, and others, were hugely popular in the seventeenth century – although, even in the eyes of contemporaries, it must have looked somewhat strange to see Albert Cuyp’s Dutch cattle grazing in an Italian landscape under Mediterranean skies. It was an early expression of the ‘Mediterranean Passion’, a lasting and loving fascination of northerners with Southern Europe.


From 1814 until April 1818 Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond and his family lived in an eighteenth century mansion in a street near the Blanchisserie de la Fontaine in Brussels (the laundry was situated close to a fountain). The Duke was in command of a reserve force that was protecting the city from an invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte. The mansion, located at no. 23 Rue de la Blanchisserie, was an elegant but simple building with six rooms, a hall and a staircase. There were two floors, an attic and a large basement. To the left of the main entrance had been a workshop with the Richmonds initially transformed into a playroom for the children and subsequently into a ballroom.


It was there that three nights before the Battle of Waterloo the Duchess of Richmond gave a ball where many officers of the allied English, Prussian and Dutch armies (including the Prince of Orange) were invited. A majority of Europe’s military and diplomatic elite gathered together under one roof – if Napoleon had known about this history would have taken an entirely different course. The occasion inspired various artists. Robert Hillingford captured the splendour of the occasion in his painting ‘The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball’. Thackeray made dramatic use of the event in his novel Vanity Fair. But it was Lord Byron who recorded the occasion in the most colourful terms.


In the section of Childe Harold which is entitled ‘The Eve of Waterloo’ the poet related the events that took place on the night before the Battle of Quatre Bras which was fought on 16 June 1815 as a preliminary of the real Battle of Waterloo two days later. With the ball at its height a messenger brings word to Wellington that Napoleon is advancing towards Brussels. The news comes as a shock on a festive occasion that, until that fateful moment, had been all smiles and sparkling white teeth:

Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,
And gathering tears, and trembling of distress,
And cheeks all pale, which but an hour ago
Blushed at the praise of their own loveliness

Neither Thackeray nor Byron attended the ball, but they were the two writers who turned that night into the most glittering ball in history.


The night of 18 June 1815 was a momentous one. After twenty-three years of war in Europe, Napoleon faced the combined might of the allied forces at Waterloo. When the battle was over, the French were defeated and 50,000 men lay dead or wounded on the field of slaughter. Waterloo lifted the spirit of the British. It soon became an indispensable topic in the poetry of Walter Scott, Robert Southey or William Wordsworth. This was inspiring and uplifting verse giving the notion of Britishness a new dimension. Waterloo became the attraction par excellence for the emerging tourist industry, a must for everyone to see. Little interest was shown in Flemish culture itself. Even Rubens was judged to be vulgar and coarse (read Rossetti, Thackeray, Henry James, Ruskin and others). Wellington was hailed as an English hero in spite of the fact that he was born and raised in Ireland and educated in Paris. In 1816, Lord Byron stayed briefly in Brussels. He visited the battlefield at Waterloo and told the story in the third canto of Childe Harold. The poet had been preceded by a stream of other visitors.


Landscape painter Robert Hills made his way to the battlefield in the summer of 1815. He produced a series of sketches there which formed the basis for fifty-three aquatints which were published as Sketches in Flanders and Holland (1816). Hill emerges as a curiously dispassionate observer of the aftermath of the bloody battle. Young Newman Smith had undertaken the journey to Flanders for health reasons, hoping that the sea trip would improve his weak constitution. When in Brussels, he heard of Bonaparte’s surprise advance and even ran into the Duke of Wellington. Smith promptly resolved to travel to the scene of battle. He arrived there at its immediate aftermath. Walking among the dead and dying, he picked up a ‘tolerably good cuirass’ from the field, only to be forced by a Brussels gendarme to return it. It is an early account of our obsession with violence and the instruments of torture. Smith published an account of this visit in his Flying Sketches from the Battle of Waterloo, Brussels, Holland &c, in June 1815 (although the book was not published until 1852).


By strange coincidence, All Smiles is a family dentistry in Waterloo, New York. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries people dreaded losing their teeth. The toothless had sunken cheeks and looked old before their time. Replacement teeth were traditionally made from ivory (hippopotamus, walrus, or elephant) which deteriorated quicker than real teeth. More costly dentures were made with an ivory base and then set with real human teeth. The biggest purveyors of teeth were the resurrectionists who stole corpses to sell to medical schools. A set of teeth was one of the perks of the job. Even if they dug up a body too far gone for the anatomy lesson, they could still sell the teeth. Unfortunately for some unlucky recipients, syphilis and tuberculosis were unknowingly transmitted into their mouths from infected donors. When the fighting at Waterloo ended, night was closing in. Battlefield scavengers flitted from corpse to corpse, gathering up weapons and looking for valuables. The final act of desecration followed. They pulled and pocketed any intact front teeth. As a result, the sudden flood of teeth onto the market was enormous. Dentures made from second-hand teeth acquired a new name – Waterloo teeth. Far from putting clients off, this was a selling point. Better to have teeth from a soldier killed in battle than those plucked from the jaws of a decaying corpse or a hanged person. Apparently, Waterloo teeth still appeared in dental supply catalogues of the 1860s.



Rue Saint-Jacques once was a major passage in the Quartier Latin of old Paris before it was turned into a backstreet with the creation of the Boulevard Saint-Germain as part of Haussmann’s regeneration scheme of the capital. It was the starting point for pilgrims to make their way along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle that led eventually to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where the remains of the apostle Saint James are supposed to be buried. The Paris base of the Dominican Order was established in 1218 in the Chapelle Saint-Jacques. However, it was not for religion or piety that the street won its reputation, but for the crucial role it played in the history of French printing.


In 1466, German-born Johann Heynlin obtained a doctorate in theology at the Sorbonne. Three years later he was elected Rector of the university and became Professor of Theology. He established of the first printing-press in France in cooperation with Guillaume Fichet who also taught at the Sorbonne. Around 1469/70, Heynlin hired three Swiss printers, Ulrich Gering, Michael Friburger and Martin Crantz, to install and run this press in the buildings of the university. He also gave financial aid to their undertakings, especially for the printing of the works of the Church Fathers. Their first publication with this press – the first book printed in France – was a collection of letters (Epistolae Gasparini) by the fifteenth century grammarian Gasparinus de Bergamo. The book dates from 1470. During the following two years over twenty works appeared from the press, including Fichet’s own Rhetorica. By the end of 1472 the venture came to an end and the three printers left the Sorbonne to set up on their own at the sign of the Soleil d’Or on the Rue Saint Jacques, thus starting a long tradition of printing in the street (the proximity of the Sorbonne attracted many later booksellers and printers).

ImageThe Rue Saint-Jacques has been associated with a number of new printing techniques that were introduced over the ages. Jacques Chéreau was a portrait engraver and publisher of ‘optical prints’ at the Rue Saint-Jacques. From about 1740 to about 1820 such prints were made to be viewed through a so-called zograscope. This was an optical device for enhancing the sense of depth perception from a flat picture. The machine consists of a large magnifying lens through which the picture is viewed. Some models have the lens mounted on a stand in front of an angled mirror allowing a person to sit and look through the lens at the picture flat on the table. Pictures viewed in this way need to be left-right reversed. They are called ‘vues perspectives’.


The origin of the term zograscope has been lost, but it is also known as a diagonal mirror or as an optical pillar machine. Machines of that kind were popular during the Georgian era as parlour entertainments. They were produced for the luxury market as fine pieces of furniture, with turned stands, mouldings, and brass fittings. Intaglio optical prints have deliberately exaggerated converging lines and bright colours which contribute to the illusion of depth. Jacques Chéreau and his brother were amongst the most prolific publishers and producers of such prints in Paris. Typical subjects include current events, views of the known world, fantasy compositions, and cityscapes. Chéreau himself for example, around 1750, produced a coloured print ‘Vue de la ville et du pont de Francfort’ which shows the city’s Medieval bridge over the river Main.


Auguste Delâtre was an artist’s printer who pioneered the ‘mobile etching’ technique, a method of painting ink on to the plate so that up to forty unique impressions could be made from the same plate, rather than a uniformly wiped edition. This influenced the practice of monotype amongst artists such as Ludovic Lepic and Edgar Degas. He built up a considerable reputation amongst artists and it was to him that the majority of progressive etchers turned. One of those artists was Whistler. In 1855, the latter asked the printer to produce a number of sets of his ‘Douze eaux-fortes d’après nature’. Twenty were printed at Delâtre’s shop at no. 171 Rue St Jacques, and a further fifty sets were printed later in London.


Delâtre was also involved in the printing of Whistler’s ‘Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects’ in 1861. In return Whistler etched his portrait. In 1862 Delâtre helped to found the Société des Aquafortistes in Paris. In the disastrous Prussian siege of Paris in 1870 his studio was destroyed, as were his works and equipment. He fled to London, where he met up with other expatriate French artists such as James Tissot and Jules Dalou. He returned to Paris in 1876 and set up a new studio in Montmartre.


Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard was a French cloth merchant who, in the 1840s, became a student of photography. In 1850, he introduced the albumen paper printing technique and started the Imprimerie Photographique in Lille a year later. It was the first commercially viable method of producing a print on a paper base from a negative. It used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper and remained the dominant form of photographic positives from 1855 to the turn of the twentieth century.


The process produced some stunning images, including those of Jane Morris (née Burden), wife of William Morris, who was an embroiderer and model. She worked with her husband in their furnishings business. In the late 1860s, Jane began a romantic liaison with Rossetti that lasted until 1876. She was the model for some of his most famous paintings, and her striking appearance provided him with inspiration for over twenty years. Emery Walker produced with an iconic image with his albumen print of Jane Morris seated, leaning forward with her face towards the viewer and her left hand leaning on her face.


There are, furthermore, a number of albumen images of the Rue Saint-Jacques. There is, for example, Charles Marville’s 1865/9 print of the ‘Rue Saint-Jacques’. This photograph depicts an intersection near the Sorbonne University. Marville was hired by the government to record the old city before modernization. Made for documentary purposes, this delightful image captures the street’s architectural character and shows the light flooding through the narrow passageway and lingers on the contrast between the bold lettering of advertisements and the peeling walls that threaten to absorb them.

Eugène Atget was equally passionate in preserving memories of old Paris and a one-man archive. Between 1897 and 1927, he made roughly 10,000 negatives from which he produced and sold some 25,000 prints to individuals and institutions. His photographs show Paris in its various facets: narrow lanes, historic courtyards and pre-Revolution palaces under threat of demolition, bridges and quays on the banks of the Seine, and shops with their window displays. Whilst Impressionist painters recorded the transformation of the city with its new boulevards and stations in bright colours, photographers hurried to capture the last remnants and muted tones of the Medieval town.

Bristol Street in Birmingham is a commercial road that is nowadays dominated by supermarkets and car dealers. There is little or nothing to relate this street to the history of art or literature – with the exception of W.H. Auden. In the first two stanzas of his 1937 poem ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ the poet leads his reader through Bristol Street to a railway arch by the river (this concerns the River Rea which is confined in a deep brick-lined channel through most of its passage across central Birmingham).

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
Love has no ending.

The introduction of such ‘unpoetical’ urban scenes is typical for Auden as a poet, but it has also a background in Birmingham’s flourishing cultural tradition. Since the eighteenth century Birmingham developed a distinctive culture of art and design, dominated by the historic importance of the applied art to the city’s manufacturing economy. While industrial towns such as Manchester and Bradford were based on the manufacture of bulk commodities (cotton and wool), Birmingham’s economy was built on the production of finished manufactured goods for European markets. Good design was essential in a competitive market and this resulted in the growth of an extensive infrastructure for artistic education. Birmingham initiated the increasingly important role of the visual arts within industrial society. The city stood at the centre of the Arts and Craft movement.

During the 1930s it could boast a lively artistic and literary scene represented by poets Auden, MacNeice and Henry Reed; novelist Henry Green; sculptor Gordon Herickx; and the Surrealist painters. The existence of a distinctive Birmingham group of Surrealist artists dates from the meeting of Conroy Maddox and John Melville in 1935, after an exchange of letters in the Birmingham Post about the reactionary and conventional art scene in the city represented by the Birmingham School of Art and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, where the Arts and Crafts ideals were held in favour of more radical artistic movements.

As late as 1938, John Melville had six of his paintings banned from an exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as being detrimental to ‘public sensibility’. His brother Robert, an outstanding art critic, was instrumental in introducing Picasso to the English public. He was one of the first to recognize the talent of Francis Bacon. The so-called Birmingham Group was a group of authors writing from the 1930s to the 1950s. Members included John Hampson, Walter Allen, Leslie Halward, and others. For a while the group met weekly in a pub off Corporation Street. The group showed little stylistic unity but shared a common interest in the realistic portrayal of working class scenes.

W.H. Auden continued the link between creativity and the industrial urban scene. Born in York in 1907, Auden was only eighteen months old when the family moved to Birmingham. To the youngster, the Solihull gasworks were an awe-inspiring sight. This unconventional poetic attitude is based on early personal experiences, awareness of the local cultural tradition, and knowledge of developments in modernist poetry on the Continent where the ‘might of the machine’ had impressed many of the younger generation. By contrast with older and even with the artificiality of some modernist poets, one listens to a voice here that is fully at home in the industrial landscape of the modern city. In ‘Letter to Lord Byron’ (1936) Auden states unequivocally:

Tramlines and slagheaps, pieces of machinery,
That was, and still is, my ideal scenery.

The image leads on to the folling fine lines:

But give me still, to stir imagination
The chiaroscuro of the railway station.

As an individual Auden apparently possessed little mechanical aptitude, but the poet in him was stirred by the symbolism of place-names and the industrial plant and processes associated with them. Later, at Oxford, his favourite sights were the gasworks and the municipal dump.


Rue Lepic is an ancient winding road in Montmartre, climbing the steep hill from the Boulevard de Clichy to the Place Jean-Baptiste-Clément. Having been given various names previously, in 1864 the street was renamed after General Louis Lepic, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars (and of the Polish Campaign in particular). The street is famous for its steep hill. Louis Renault built his first car in 1898, calling his car the ‘Voiturette’. On 24 December 1898, he won a bet with his friends that his invention was capable of driving up the slope of Rue Lepic. As well as winning the bet, Renault received twelve orders for the vehicle.


From 1886 to 1888, Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo lived on the third floor of the property at no. 54. In the spring of 1887 he painted an image of Paris as seen from his room in the Rue Lepic. It was during this period that Vincent changed his painting style from the dark Belgo-Dutch browns and blacks to bright impressionist colours.

For much of his live novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline lived for much of his life at no. 98 Rue Lepic, opposite the Moulin de la Galette. He mentions the street in several of his novels.


Yves Montand dedicated to this road his charming song ‘Rue Lepic’ which features on the 1974 album Yves Montand. It ends with the lines:

Et la rue
Monte, monte toujours
Vers Montmartre, là-haut,
Vers ses moulins si beaux
Ses moulins tout là-haut
Rue Lepic.


Since the Middle Ages there have been windmills on the hill of Montmartre and in the seventeenth century there were at least thirty. The mills were used to grind the corn grown on the plain of Saint Denis, north of Montmartre (now the location of the Stade de France). At the time of Claude Renoir’s death in 1919 nearly all the windmills had disappeared as Paris expanded and the old cornfields were sold off as building plots. The few remaining mills were turned into cabarets and restaurants. Its more recent past saw Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Amedeo Modigliani, Piet Mondrian and others calling Montmartre their home. Around the same time the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur rose from its highest point, memorializing losses suffered during the 1871 Franco-Prussian war and the end of the Paris Commune. This white basilica has dominated the Parisian skyline since 1914. It was dedicated to the 58,000 who lost their lives in the conflict.


For many Parisians a trip to Montmartre was an escape, a place to have fun out of sight of relations and enquiring neighbours. The main attraction was the Moulin de Galette, a windmill situated near the top of Montmartre. The name is based on a popular brown bread or galette that was produced by the nineteenth century miller family of Debray. Initially it was sold with a glass of milk. As the nearby fields were replaced with housing and factories, Nicholas Charles Debray sought commercial opportunities to remain in business. One of the mills was turned into a viewing tower and a dance hall was opened adjacently. People came to the Moulin for entertainment and dancing. It became an outlet for Parisian pleasure-seekers to enjoy a glass of local wine (rather than milk), freshly baked bread and a terrace view of city and Seine below. A number of artists have immortalized the Moulin de la Galette.


The earliest and most notable image was was Renoir’s atmospheric 1876 oil on canvas painting ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’, one of the masterpieces of early Impressionism. This painting is his most important work of the mid 1870s and was shown at the Impressionist exhibition in 1877. Though some of his friends appear in the picture, Renoir’s main aim was to convey the vivacious Sunday afternoon atmosphere of the dance garden on the Butte Montmartre. This snapshot of the moving crowd, bathed in natural and artificial light, is depicted with brightly coloured and fluid brushstrokes.


Van Gogh completed his version of the Moulin in 1886 whilst living in the Rue Lepic. Painting outdoors encouraged him to explore the effects of natural light and the result is a luminous palette that departs from his usual sombre tones. Toulouse-Lautrec painted the Moulin de la Galette in 1889, thirteen years after Renoir, but he adopted the same angle of people sitting at tables enjoying the music and dancing in the background. He however uses darker colours and does not focus on the faces of the people, whereas Renoir painted almost every figure looking directly at the viewer. Renoir’s work seems more staged. It seems as if the company of revellers is posing for a photographer.


Picasso created his image of the mill in 1900. His depiction of lamps burning in darkness and women wearing lipstick and striking outfits portray a different ambience than Renoir’s. But in his case too, the painting resembles a stage performance. Looking towards the viewer, his figures pose as if they are keen to give their identity away. One year earlier, Dutch painter Kees van Dongen had settled in Paris and became a resident of the Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre.


In the early years of the century the poet Max Jacob had the name Bateau-Lavoir to a conglomeration of artists’ studios in Montmartre, at the top of the steps leading to no. 13 Rue Ravignan. They were situated in a shaded square which later took the name of the singer Émile Goudeau. It was a gloomy heap of dark and dirty premises made of beams and planks. On stormy days they swayed and creaked so dangerously on their uncertain foundations that they reminded one of the washing-boats on the Seine – hence the name. Between 1904 and 1914 an extraordinary number of outstanding artists, poets and authors settled here.


The list of occupiers of the building is like a comprehensive index of modernist artists in the years preceding World War I, extending from Picasso, Braque, Modigliani, to Apollinaire, Jarry, and Cocteau. It was in this milieu that Picasso first discussed Cubism. Picasso’s studio was next to Van Dongen, and the two became close friends. Van Dongen painted ‘Le Moulin de la Galette’ in 1904. He participated in the controversial 1905 exhibition Salon d’Automne, in a room featuring Henri Matisse amongst others. The bright colours of this group of artists led to them being called Fauves (‘Wild Beasts’).



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