The Lapin Agile Cabaret and the Picasso Painting

Artists’ canteen: the Lapin Agile cabaret

The Lapin Agile (Agile Rabbit) cabaret Rue des Saules Montmartre. A small one story building set in a small garden with green shutters on the windows. A sign in French tells us that this is the Lapin Agile cabaret, that it specialises in poetry and song and that it will open at about 21:00 except on Mondays. In the foreground is a fine decorative wooden fence painted in green with yellow tips.
The Lapin Agile (Agile Rabbit) cabaret Rue des Saules Montmartre.

Continue down the Rue des Saules to the far end of the vineyard. The small building at the bottom corner of the vineyard with green shutters, rustic concrete fence and trees in front is the Lapin Agile.

Map of Montmartre for the self-guided walk which guides you to artists’ studios, paintings and canteens. The walk is around the upper Montmartre area including the hill of Montmartre.
Walk 1, map of upper Montmartre; route and points of interest of the Montmartre walking tour Montmartre Artists’ Studios © OpenStreetMap contributors, the Open Database Licence (ODbL).

This was a famous watering hole and Montmartre institution at the beginning of the 20th century; many writers, artists, musicians, actors and poets met and mixed here.

An OpenStreetMap detail of the signed route map from point 6 the Maison Rose (Pink House), point 7 the Clos Montmartre (Montmartre Vineyard), point 8 the Lapin agile, point 9 the Montmartre Museum.
The route leading from point 6 the Maison Rose (Pink House), point 7 the Clos Montmartre (Montmartre Vineyard), point 8 the Lapin agile, point 9 the Montmartre Museum. © OpenStreetMap contributors, the Open Database Licence (ODbL).

What does the Lapin Agile mean?

The name means the agile rabbit or Gill’s rabbit. It comes from the commercial ensign painted by the artist André Gill in the 1870s showing a rabbit skipping out of a frying pan. The rabbit carries a bottle of wine, and is wearing a red neckerchief and sash. Because the rabbit (lapin) was painted by Gill, the sign – which quickly became famous in Montmartre – came to be known as the Lapin à Gill (Gill’s Rabbit). By repetition this became Lapin Agile (Agile Rabbit), this latter name stuck.

Frédé and the Lapin Agile

In 1903 Frédéric Gérard known as Frédé became landlord. Frédé was well known in Montmartre where he would go round the streets selling fish carried by his donkey. Frédé’s crow, goat, monkey or his pet white mice would sometimes also make an appearance at the cabaret.

He also had another café called the Zut where Picasso was a regular so Picasso came to the Lapin Agile too. Frédé was musical and easy going. He created the right atmosphere. He too wore a bandanna round his neck and sometimes on his head. This photograph shows him singing and playing his guitar as an attentive bohemian audience looks on.

Frederic Gerard known as Frede the landlord of the Lapin Agile cabaret in Montmartre plays the guitar on front of an attentive audience gathered around a table. The room is sparsly decorated with wooden chairs and tables. In the background Picasso’s painting of a harlequin and companinion known as At the Lapin Agile can be seen on the wall.
Frédé plays guitar to an attentive bohemian audience at the Lapin Agile cabaret in the early 1900s. The Picasso painting is between the two sculpted figures.

Picasso’s painting Au Lapin Agile (At the Lapin Agile)

We can catch a glimpse of Frédé (wearing clogs), in Picasso’s painting Au Lapin Agile (At the Lapin Agile), painted in 1905 in the Bateau Lavoir and hung in the cabaret. The work can just be made out to the left of the sculpture of the Christ figure in the above photograph.

In the foreground of the painting are two melancholic figures, a self-portrait as Harlequin and a woman. Both figures seem self-absorbed, hardly aware of the other. The woman is said to be a portrait of Germaine the artists’ model. Picasso’s close friend Casagemas had shot himself when she rejected him. The event propelled Picasso towards his Blue Period where themes of hardship and introspection predominate in muted blue tones.

Where is Picasso’s Au Lapin Agile now?

For a few years the canvas listened to the conversation, absorbed the smoke, the smell of stale beer and was perhaps leaned upon. It was the work of a little known rising artist and part of the furniture. Some time later Frédé had bills to pay; he sold the painting. The sum he received is not recorded. In 1989 in New York, history took note as the painting was sold for $40.7 million. The buyer was Walter Annenberg businessman and diplomat.

He generously left it to The Metropilitan Museum of Art in New York where it can be seen now.

For wheelchair users please return to point 6 on the dedicated wheelchair page.