Aïcha Goblet: La Vénus de Montparnasse in the Roaring Twenties

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Aïcha Goblet: La Vénus de Montparnasse in the Roaring Twenties
“Montparnasse is Aïcha. Aïcha almost alone, since the death of Libion, the original owner of La Rotonde. Everyone knows her.” So begins Emmanuel Bourcier’s article “La Vénus de Montparnasse,” in Paris-Soir, (April 17, 1931) under the rubric “Aicha la Vedette.” Aïcha the Star. And indeed she was, shining brightly well before Josephine Baker débuted in La Revue Nègre on October 2, 1925 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, fresh off the boat from New York. When Josephine Baker — the sixth woman, first American and first woman of color inducted into the Panthéon — eclipsed Aïcha as the toast of Paris, the world slowly forgot their Montparnasse “princess.” Aïcha on the cover of “Paris-Montparnasse”, August 15, 1929. It was the journalist Henri Broca who crowned Aïcha in the August 15, 1929 issue of Paris-Montparnasse. The article “La Princesse Aïcha et le Mage Pascin” praised this in-demand model, dancer, and actress, who was born in 1898 in the northern French mining town of Hazebrouck. Her Belgian mother and Martinique-born father had nine other children. “Take note, I am Flemish,” she wrote in her autobiographical article “Aïcha Speakers to You,” published in Mon Paris (June 1936). “I am the only Black in my family. When I write my true Memoires, as someone has asked me to do, I’ll explain this discreetly.” Oh, Aïcha had her secrets, which, unfortunately, she took to the grave. A still from the 1926 film recording of the Bal de la Horde, organized annually by the artists of Montparnasse at the Bal Bullier, wherein artists, actors, cabaret performers, and the general public rubbed shoulders in formal dress or costumes. Here we see Aïcha dancing with another Jules Pascin model Julie Luce, wearing only two necklaces and a grass skirt. Well before the international American star Josephine Baker arrived in France, Aïcha invented a theatrical Afro-Caribbean stereotype for these costume balls and on stage that featured very little corporeal coverage. Aïcha with Simone Luce in Fontenay-aux-Roses, n.d. © Billy Klüver and Julie Martin’s “Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers, 1900-1930′ (Harry N. Abrams, 1989) Unfortunately, much that is written about this beloved member of the avant-garde offers sound facts and some mistakes, including the Aïcha Goblet biography written in the catalogue for the 2019 exhibition Le Modèle Noir de Géricault à Matisse at the Musée d’Orsay. Like most sources, this entry claims that Aïcha Goblet “inspired” André Salmon’s 1920 novel La Négresse du Sacré Coeur (Black Venus in translation). That’s not true. Salmon’s story takes place in 1907. Aïcha was only nine years old and not living in Montmartre with Picasso and his gang, who were the inspiration for Salmon’s characters. As Salmon explains in his author’s notes, written around August 1953 and published in the 2009 edition, the main character Cora was based on people who lived in this neighborhood at that time. “The model and dancer Cora, whose Christian name I forgot, lived in some part of the Butte that she would traverse with her gentle gait.” (Gallimard, 2009, p. 277). I am indebted to Dr. Jacqueline Gojard, Professor of Literature, University of Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle), who edited and wrote the introduction to the 2009 edition of Salmon’s novel, for her confirmation that Aïcha was not the source for Cora.
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Lead photo credit : Félix Vallotton, Aïcha, 1922. Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm. © Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Public Domain

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Beth S. Gersh-Nešić, Ph.D. is an art historian and the director of the New York Arts Exchange, an arts education service that offers tours and lectures in the New York tristate area. She specializes in the study of Cubism and has published on the art criticism of Apollinaire’s close friend, poet/art critic/journalist André Salmon. She teaches art history at Mercy College in Westchester, New York. She published a book with French poet/literary critic Jean-Luc Pouliquen called "Transatlantic Conversation: About Poetry and Art." Her most recent book is a translation and annotation of "Pablo Picasso, André Salmon and 'Young French Painting,'" with an introduction by Jacqueline Gojard.

Comments

  • Marilyn Brouwer
    2022-01-04 05:04:07
    Marilyn Brouwer
    Fascinating stuff Beth. I confess I had never heard of Aicha but I hope , like you more comes to light about this intriguing woman. Happy New Year!

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    • Beth Gersh-Nesic
      2022-01-13 06:33:47
      Beth Gersh-Nesic
      Hi Marilyn, So glad you discovered Aïcha Goblet here. Wendy Grossman, who shared so much about the model Ady Fidelin in her interview here at BP, introduced me to the Michel Fabre article online, and there began the hunt to verify his info. Much more on the studio models needs to be recovered. Just read your Julie Manet review - brilliant and beautifully presented. Cheers, Beth

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