Pablo Picasso’s 1905 painting, "At The Lapin Agile", now hangs in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the painting, Picasso is dressed as a Harlequin, seated at the bar of Au Lapin Agile, with the owner of the cabaret, Frede, playing the guitar in the background.
Montmartre at the turn of the 20th century, was the artistic heart of Paris and the Lapin Agile kept it beating. Artists, writers and musicians came together here, to entertain, be entertained and to drink together.
The cabaret dates back to the 1860’s and its name has an interesting history. It was originally called Cabaret des Assassins, relating to a murder which took place on the premises. But in 1875 an artist named Andre Gill, known for his caricatures of contemporaries such as Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo, painted a sign of a rabbit jumping out of a cooking pot and the cabaret began to be called Le Lapin a Gill (Gill’s Rabbit). The name eventually morphed to become Au Lapin Agile (The Agile Rabbit).
One can still come here for traditional French folk music, chansons, and for a glimpse into the rich history of the hilltop village called Montmartre.
Au Lapin Agile
22 rue des Saules
Metro: Lamarck Caulaincourt
What exactly is a cabaret? The French word, in the second half of the 19th century, came to mean an establishment which served liquor and was a convivial meeting place for artists, writers, poets, singers, philosophers and the public at large. Folk songs were sung with patron participation and performers of all sorts were encouraged to entertain in an intimate environment of camaraderie.
Monmartre was the site of the first Parisian cabarets. In the 1900’s it was a hilly outpost, with dirt roads, windmills and its share of seedy characters. But as rents began to soar in the French capital, artistic souls found their way to the suburb, which was reputed to be affordable and supportive of creative and bohemian types.
Even if you’ve never heard of Le Chat Noir, you have probably seen the famous poster entitled, “Tournee du Chat Noir” by the artist, Theophile Steinlen.
On November 18, 1881 at 84 Boulevard Rouchechouart, artist and poet Rodolphe Salis officially opened his destined-to-be-famous cabaret/artist salon.
He had already been welcoming diverse artists weekly, to his apartment, for drinks and readings, songs and intellectual debates, but moved into the building next door to enjoy tremendous success as the cabaret, Le Chat Noir.
Shortly thereafter, Salis was publishing his own magazine and boasted such famous patrons as Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Paul Signac and Guy de Maupassant.
Le Chat Noir closed in 1897, the year of Salis’s death, and it is said that when Pablo Picasso arrived in Paris for the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) in 1900, he was saddened to find it gone.