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Until January 13, 2013, the Musée de Montmartre is reopening the doors of the past with their exposition Autour du Chat Noir: Arts et Plaisirs à Montmartre 1880-1910 (Around the Chat Noir: Pleasure and Art in Montmartre between 1880 – 1910). The museum is displaying an impressive range of memorabilia covering everything from schools of thought to schools of art, from cafés to theaters, from frivolous pastimes to war and rebellion, all of which found a home on the hills of Montmartre at the turn of the 20th century.
The Chat Noir
The Chat Noir was a mythical French nightclub—arguably the first modern one in the world—hidden in the backstreets of Paris’s bohemian quarter. Opened by Rodolphe Salis in 1881, the Chat Noir became the central chamber in the heart of Montmartre and soon filled with Paris’s intellectual lifeblood, including Paul Verlaine, Claude Debussy, and André Gill. More than just an artist salon, the cabaret was also a raucous dance hall whose liquor fueled soirées made the original Chat Noir and its successive locations a hangout for painters, poets and thinkers in whose rooms were born many philosophical schools, artistic movements and entertainment trends.
The Musée de Montmartre catalogues and displays mementos of the era, not just a portrait of the Chat Noir, but of the face of Montmartre from all sides.
The visitor will see posters, playbills, paintings, postcards and prints portraying the period presented, plus caricatures of clowns, cats and Can-Can in cabarets side by side with songbooks and silhouettes from the Shadow Theater that set the style in the City of Light.
The expo is divided into several categories. The ground floor serves up art, sketches and texts dedicated to the Chat Noir, its founder, followers and irreverent eponymous journal. In the stages above, there are sections reserved for the invasion of Montmartre by the German army and the subsequent assault by the French army who bombed the hill to quell the insurrection fostered by the Commune of Paris. There is also a display deconstructing the construction of the Sacre Coeur, erected in atonement for that period to the people of Paris.
The exhibit concludes with a presentation of the café-concert and dance hall spirit that sparked Montmartre during this epoch. Among the wide selection of art on display are works by Toulouse Lautrec, paintings of the Moulin Rouge and a phenomenal 3D model of the neighborhood.
The Musée de Montmartre
Outside the main building that houses the expo, the location itself is a museum of sorts. The museum grounds contain Auguste Renoir’s studio and visitors are free to explore the gardens where he painted “La balançoire” and “Torse, effet de soleil”. Guests can also view the Clos Montmartre vineyard, the only operational vineyard in Paris.
The exposition “Autour du Chat Noir” is a window on the spirit and spirits lingering on the cobblestone of Montmartre, and the museum itself is a vestige of the glory that has reigned for centuries on this hill rising above Paris. For bohemians and aficionados alike, the Musée de Montmartre is a must-visit visit in any visit to Paris.
Musée de Montmartre (English)
Autour de Chat Noir
Musée de Montmartre
12 rue Cortot, 75018 Paris
Open daily from 10am – 6pm
Students 17-25: 6€
Youth 10-16: 4€
Children under 10: Free
The texts are all bilingual French/English but photos are not allowed.
By Paul Prescott (Paris Inspired Website)
Anonymous, “Au premier Chat Noir”, Collection Musée de Montmartre, © DR (Used with permission)
“Salle du Bar”, Musée de Montmartre, © Guillaume Lachaud (Used with permission)
Exterior photos ©2012 Paul Prescott