Introducing Picasso’s Gang with a Tour of their Favorite Haunts

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Introducing Picasso’s Gang with a Tour of their Favorite Haunts
Apollinaire: The Vision of a Poet at the Musée de l’Orangerie and Cabaret Picasso at the Théâtre Poche-Montparnasse celebrated the infamous bande à Picasso (Picasso’s Gang) in Paris this summer. Unfortunately, these excellent strolls down Modernism’s Memory Lane closed over the Bastille Day weekend. Not to worry, if you planned to be in Paris later this summer—or anytime, really. Bonjour Paris has created for you an exclusive “Picasso’s Gang Tour” (a brief respite from Pokemón Go, PG enthusiasts) that is available all year round – hopefully, in perpetuity. So grab your metro card, a map and your cell phone as we lead you through the streets of Paris, in search of the landmarks that united Picasso and his Merry Pals. (And don’t forget to stop in their favorite cafés for an apéro or two to drink a toast in their honor.) The Core Members: Pablo Picasso, Max Jacob, André Salmon, and Guillaume Apollinaire.  When the 20th century was fresh and new, a notorious group of 20-something avant-gardists changed the course of art history. They revered the Symbolist enfant terrible Arthur Rimbaud and yet rebelled against Symbolist trends. Their mission was to liberate order and bring order to liberation. Although they seemed culturally diverse on the surface, fundamentally they had much in common. Pablo Picasso and André Salmon were sons of artists. Max Jacob descended from a family of tailors and antique dealers. Guillaume Apollinaire belonged to the dramatic life of his mother’s invention. Among their friends and foes, they became a creative force to contend with – a gang of movers and shakers, pranksters, and dedicate disrupters, destined to be the voices of their generation. Like all self-selected bohemians, they lived a life of modest means – if not downright poverty – by choice, since each man tested out conventional bourgeois occupations early on. The poets Jacob, Apollinaire and Salmon worked in retail, banking and government before they figured out how to survive on their writing. Picasso considered illustration for posters and menus before he fully committed himself to living off his fine art projects exclusively.  Pablo Picasso (October 25, 1881-April 9, 1973) was born in Malaga, Spain, the son of a painter and art teacher. His family moved to La Coruña in the northern Spain in 1891 for his father’s job at the local art academy. In 1895, the family settled in Barcelona, home of the hipster-ish modernistas, a tertulia of avant-garde writers and artists who were a bit older than the impressionable Pablo Picasso y Ruiz. They urged him to visit Paris, the garden of revolutionary delights. Finally, in the spring of 1900, Picasso arrived for the first time in this Capital of Art, staying through the fall. He returned in the spring of 1901 to mount an exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery that June. At his own show, he met the poet Max Jacob, five years his senior. They became fast friends and kept up with each other after Picasso’s returned to Barcelona. Back in Paris in 1902, Picasso lived with Jacob in his modest flat on the Boulevard Voltaire. During the day, Picasso slept in their one bed, while Jacob worked in a department store. At night, Jacob slept in the bed, while Picasso painted. Jacob was the first Frenchman whom Picasso truly knew well. They read poetry together and, through Jacob, Picasso learned how to speak French fluently. Le Bateau Lavoir, Place Émile Goudeau, 75018 (Montmartre); The original was destroyed in a fire in 1970. During the spring of 1904, Picasso moved to Paris permanently, setting up his first studio in the filthy, vermin-infested “Bateau Lavoir” (“laundry boat”) – a nickname invented by Max Jacob. Located at 13 rue Ravignan (now Place Émile Goudeau) in Montmartre, the original building burned down in May 1970 and was restored in 1978. Today, the public can visit an attractive storefront on the square that displays memorabilia from the Picasso era. In those days, this part of Paris was quite sleazy and removed from the more upscale bourgeois neighborhoods of their patrons (such as Gertrude, Michael and Leo Stein, whose salon took place at 27 rue de Fleurus, near the Luxembourg Gardens). Above his door at the Bateau Lavoir, Picasso wrote in blue chalk “Au Rendezvous des Poètes” (The Poets’ Meeting Place). He invited scores of friends and friends of friends to share in the Gang’s nightly antics (if they weren’t at Frédé’s Lapin Agile, the Closerie de Lilas, Gertrude Stein’s Saturday salons, or Henri Rousseau’s soirées). The famous “Rousseau Banquet” at Picasso’s studio took place in March 1908. In 1909, Picasso moved to 11 Boulevard de Clichy, with his lady love Fernande Olivier, but kept his paintings stored in the Bateau Lavoir. In September 1912, he moved with his next serious mistress Eva Gouel (aka Marcelle Humbert) to 242 Boulevard Raspail, in Montparnasse, giving up, as well, his studio/storage space in the Bateau Lavoir. In 1918, Picasso married the Ukrainian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova and embraced the bourgeois taste his bride brought into the marriage. He was ready to settle down. They lived at 23 rue La Boëtie in a well-appointed apartment on the first floor. Picasso’s reigned over his messy studio on the second. (Eventually it became his refuge as Olga objected…

Lead photo credit : Modigliani, Picasso and André Salmon in front the Café de la Rotonde, Paris. Image taken by Jean Cocteau in Montparnasse, Paris in 1916 / Modigliani Institut Archives Légales, Paris-Rome / 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.


  • Cheryl Mueller
    2016-09-17 20:15:37
    Cheryl Mueller
    I've been to Paris about 40 times and love it more each time! Thanks for all these beautiful memories! Have just finished a memoir about these trips to Paris alone, with children and grandchildren, and with friends; during the writing of it, I relived all of the wonderful trips we've taken!


  • Stephan
    2016-08-12 14:51:42
    A fascinating and well researched article. I was recently in Paris this past June/July and I made it a point to see the Lapin Agile. I had designed and directed Steve Martin's hilarious play at the Newport Performing Arts Center three years ago. It became the largest grossing play in the history of our black box theatre. I made sure that I got a photo of me wearing our "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" tee-shirt while standing in front of the Lapin Agile. That was most exciting for me and I can't wait to return to visit these other places mention in the article. Thank you so much.


  • Jo Anne
    2016-08-11 18:42:50
    Jo Anne
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this wonderful article. It was so enlightening to me. Thank you. JAB


  • Sherman M Kaplan
    2016-08-11 14:23:42
    Sherman M Kaplan
    Thanks for a great essay on these remarkable artists. My wife and I have visited Paris for each of the last 14 years, always renting an apartment in the 6th. We are always returning to what we love as we seek out some of the things we have not seen. Your essay will give us a new target or two. btw, we always enjoy a few minutes at the park next to the Eglise St. Germain des pres on Rue Bonaparte across from Deux Magots. That's where Picasso's bust of his friend Apollinaire is perched, altho as tour guide John Baxter points out, the bust is actually the face of a Picasso mistress. But, that's Paris for you...:-)