David Norman was for more than 30 years a senior specialist at Sotheby's in Impressionist and Modern art. Here he discusses the context of Parisian nightlife in the making of Picasso's Au Lapin Agile (above) which is now in the collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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In 1875, the artist Andre Gill, painted a sign for a well known Montmartre tavern known as the Cabaret des Assasins. It took its name from the fact that its walls were lined with portraits of famous murderers. Homicide aside, Cabaret’s were exciting venues for performances and nightlife, decadent behavior, the mingling of the upper and lower classes and often the nexus where artists, writers and progressive thinkers gathered.
Around the turn of the last Century, Cabarets were the home to the avant-garde in Germany, Poland, Sweden, America, Holland and England, but none so popular and singular in the social history of emerging modernism as the famed Parisian night spots of the Belle Epoque and after. Some of the great early landmarks of Impressionism are the great cafe-concert scenes—Renoir ’s Bal de Moulin de la Galette (Musée d’Orsay), Manet’s Bar aux Folies-Bergère (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) and the many great paintings and graphics by Toulouse-Lautrec of rollicking nightclub scene.
This is the story of a very different kind of cabaret scene and the winding road that led Picasso to one particular establishment and to the painting he created for it: Au Lapin Agile.
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