Artists’ canteen: the Lapin Agile cabaret
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.
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.
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.
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.
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