From the category archives:

Paris

Hans Bellmer was a Surrealist German artist and photographer. Born in 1902 and initially working in the fields of advertising and graphic design before transitioning to fine art, Bellmer’s first major project was also one of his best-known – Die Puppe, or a group of life-sized and sexualized pubescent female dolls. The goal of this first project was to oppose Nazi fascism by not creating anything that would support the Third Reich, which he attempted to achieve by criticizing and commenting on the cult of the perfect body which existed in the German state at the time.

He took inspiration for his doll project from a variety of places, including reading the published letters of Austrian poet and playwright Oskar Kokoschka and attending a performance of Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman in which a man falls in love with an automaton. He began to physically construct his first doll in 1933, which stood approximately 56 inches tall. In 1934 Bellmer anonymously published a book, The Doll (Die Puppe), which contained 10 black-and-white photographs of the doll arranged in a series of tableaux. Also in 1934, photographs of his doll appeared in the Surrealist journal Minotaure with the title “Poupée: Variations sur le montage d’une mineure articulée”. The doll was shown in some cases with sexualized props including a black veil, lacy undergarments, or flowers, or in some photos simply as a pile of doll parts. Of the doll, Bellmer wrote, “It was worth all my obsessive efforts when, amid the smell of glue and wet plaster, the essence of all that is impressive would take shape and become a real object to be possessed.” (Bellmer, 1934)

Bellmer was eventually declared a degenerate artist and was forced to flee Germany for France, where he was welcomed into the Surrealist circles there. He gave up doll-making but spent the rest of his life continuing to push sexual and erotic boundaries with a variety of explicit drawings, etchings, photographs, paintings, and prints of pubescent girls. F.A. Bernett currently has in its inventory an important work from this period of Bellmer’s creative life.

À Sade comprises a portfolio of ten incredibly explicit and surrealistic erotic etchings inspired by and in homage to the Marquis de Sade, the famous French libertine best known for his pornographic writings which emphasize violence, suffering, and blasphemy. The etchings are remarkable examples of Bellmer’s obsessive and meticulous treatment of the body especially the female form – limbs, genitalia, eyes, breasts, and buttocks are distorted or conflated, combining desire and horror in a way typical of both Bellmer’s work and de Sade’s.

Bellmer, Hans. À Sade. Unpaginated portfolio including title page, colophon, and ten explicit and detailed etchings inspired by the erotic writings of the Marquis de Sade, most plates approx. 7 7/8″ x 5 7/8″, each printed on 15″ x 11 1/16″ sheet, housed in separate blank folder with guard sheet, all signed in pencil by the artist. Contents loose as issued, in wrpps. portfolio, laid into cloth folder and slipcase. N.p. 1961. No. 30 of an edition of 50. (47737)

 Although published anonymously, our research shows that it was published in Paris by Alain Mazo. Incredibly scarce; as of April 2018, WorldCat locates only one copy in a German library and none in North America.

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This month marks the 50th anniversary of the massive strikes and demonstrations held in Paris and across France in May 1968. To this day, “May 68” is considered to be a cultural, social, and moral turning point in the history of France, and the events of that time had a resounding impact which was felt for decades afterwards.

Students in France were critical of the country’s outdated university system and dissatisfied with the lack of employment opportunities for recent graduates. Sporadic demonstrations for education reform began earlier in 1968, but on May 3rd a massive protest at the Sorbonne in Paris had to be broken up by the police, resulting in hundreds of arrests and dozens of injuries.

Following the protest, the Sorbonne was closed and classes cancelled, and students took to the streets surrounding the university (in Paris’s Latin Quarter) to continue their demonstrations. On May 6th, the Union National des Étudiants de France (UNEF) organized a march of more than 20,000 students, teachers, and their supporters. Protesters created barricades against the police charging with their batons, paving stones were hurled, and tear gas administered. According to estimates, over 500 protesters were arrested and 350 protesters and police injured.

On the night of May 10th, students set up barricades in the Latin Quarter and rioted, ending with close to 400 people in the hospital, more than half of which were police officers. Students called for radical changes to take place, and union leaders started planning strikes in support. In an attempt to defuse the crisis, Prime Minister Pompidou announced that the Sorbonne would reopen on May 13th.

Instead, on the 13th, students occupied the Sorbonne, turning it into a commune. Students and workers protested together in the streets, organized by the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) and the Fource Ouvriére (CGT-FO), with estimates counting over a million marchers that day. Over the next several days things escalated dramatically. Strikes spread to other universities in France as well as labor unions, and by the end of the month a massive widespread strike had extended to factories and industries across France, shutting down newspaper distribution, air transport, and two major railroads. Millions of workers were on strike, up to 22% of the population of France at the time, and the country seemed to be on the brink of revolution.

On the night of May 24th, the worst fighting occurred. Students temporarily seized the Paris Stock Exchange, raised a communist flag, and tried to set it on fire. One policeman died during the riots. Over the next few days, Prime Minister Pompidou attempted to negotiate with union leaders but failed to end the strike. The most radical students called for revolution with a meeting of the UNEF on May 27th which gathered 30,000 to 50,000 people at Stade Sebastien Charlety. They wanted the government overthrown, but their radical demands lost the support of the union leaders.

On May 30th, President de Gaulle announced that he was dissolving the National Assembly and would be holding elections. His appeal for a return to law and order gained the support of the middle class, and the labor strikes were abandoned. Student protests continued until June 12, when protests were banned. Two days later, the students were evicted from the Sorbonne. Elections were held over two rounds at the end of June, and the Gaullists won a commanding majority. Concessions were made to the protesters, including higher wages and improved working conditions for laborers, and an education reform bill was passed to help modernize the French university system.

F.A. Bernett currently has in its inventory two items dating from this period of upheaval and important change in Paris.

(Paris ’68)Collection of Leaflets Related to the 1968 Unrest in Paris. Group of approximately 200 original leaflets regarding the events of May 1968 in Paris, all originating from the “Press Office” located at the Sorbonne, dated from May and June 1968, most issued by the Comite d’Action Ouvriers Etudiants, primarily typed documents in French, some printed, including notices to their comrades and fellow students, memos, declarations, calls to action, notes on press conferences, and others, a few with cartoons or other drawings, some with ink or marker notations, overall excellent. Various sizes, mostly 4to. Sheets loose as issued, housed in an archival box. Paris 1968. (48892)

Action. Nos. 1 through 47 (7 May 1968- 3 June 1969) (all published). A complete run of 49 issues (including 2 unnumbered issues between nos. 38 and 39) of this panoramic documentation of the 1968 uprisings (issues ranging from 2 to 8 pp.), which covered events in the tumultuous year both in France and internationally with emphasis on happenings in Paris, including a wide range of articles, essays, reviews, etc., accompanied by a plethora of illustrations, including drawings, cartoons, caricatures, photographs, posters, etc. Nos. 4-20 and 23-41 large folio; nos. 1-3, 21-22, and 42-47 folio. Wrpps., all covers illustrated. Paris 1968-1969. (47080)

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“It is a riot, a revival of paganism…It is also, in its way, a hymn to beauty, a living explosion of the senses and of the emotions.” – E. Berry Wall, Neither Past Nor Puritan

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In 1892, Henri Guillaume, Professor of Architecture at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, proposed that the students of the school’s four disciplines – architecture, painting, sculpture, and engraving – put on a joint costume ball. He envisioned a lavish room decorated by the students and ornate processions, inspired by a pre-existing culture of balls and costume parties in turn-of-the-century Paris, including the Bal Blanc, la Fête Païenne, the Bal des Incohérents, and the Bal Rodolphe.

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The first ball was organized by a joint committee of art students together with writers and artists living in Montmartre and Montparnasse. It was held at the old Élysée Montmartre, a Parisian concert hall and host to many cabarets and costume balls. Admission to the festivities was by invitation only, and the ball was an immediate success. The following year, it was decided that attendance to the ball would be restricted to students and former students of the École, as well as “artistic personalities” who had contributed to the preparation of the ball. It became an annual affair, running virtually uninterrupted each summer through 1966. (No parties were held during the war years, from 1915 to 1919 and from 1940 to 1945.) The balls were held in several major venues scattered throughout Paris over the years, with most taking place at the Moulin Rouge, the Salle Wagram, and the Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles.

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Although in its early years the ball was simply an elaborate party, beginning in 1900 each ball had a specific historic theme, often derived from an ancient text or inspired by an “exotic” foreign culture, around which various contests were arranged. Once the organizing committee and workshop students came up with the theme, students from the workshops, either individually or in groups, built floats for the entrance procession as well as a loge which surrounded the central dance floor to house tableaux from the chosen theme or time period, which would be acted out as the voting Committee passed by. Prizes were awarded for the best costumes.

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The balls were elaborate and debaucherous, romping affairs. According to the invitations, which read “Le comite sera impitoyable pour tout costume qui ne serait pas de l’epoque,” attendees were required to attend in period costume; yet the costumes were often shed at some point during the festivities. The doors opened at 10 PM, and no further entrances were allowed after midnight. However, the dancing and merrymaking often continued into the wee hours, usually devolving into drunken revelry and nudity. The dancing frequently ended with a shout of “Vive les Quat’z’ Arts!” around seven o’clock in the morning, followed by a procession through the Latin Quarter, a romp around the Louvre, and a march over the Pont du Carrousel to the Théâtre de l’Odéon, where the partygoers would disband.

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In July 1946, an article was published in Life Magazine by an American journalist, Bernard Frizell, who “crashed” that year’s party. He described the event as an orgy, the female attendees initially “dressed in such a way that more was revealed than hidden”, but by midnight, under pounding music and flashing lights, with hours of revelry still to come, “a number of the girls had lost their upper garments.” Around 1 am he describes the grand procession, that year with the theme of Agamemnon’s victory over Troy: “The orchestra, playing the march from Aida, led the parade of the victors around the room. Then the committee encircled the room to judge the best galley…On the mast of one of the galleys appeared a girl, her magnificent body completely nude. A long cheer went up. Out of the ship marched the students of the atelier. Upon the Wall of Troy a series of contests began….A prize was given for the best male costume and the best couple’s costume. Then came the feminine beauty contest. The girls had to appear without clothes.”

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The Bal des Quat’z’ Arts quickly became one of the premier events of the summer season, and many Parisians desired to attend one of the raucous parties. However, admission was carefully restricted to students of the École and contributing artists, and to gain entrance to the ball each attendee had to surrender their personal invitation at the door, which bore not only their name but also the stamp of the École or atelier they belonged to and the signatures of the Bal’s organizing committee. These invitations were in turn elaborately designed to match the spectacle of the events, and correspondingly were often thematically orientalist, exotic, or primitive, with overtly erotic and sexual imagery. They are a tour de force of the evolution of artistic style, showing the progress from Art Nouveau to modernist primitivism, up through psychedelic design. Almost every invitation bears the warning “Le nu est rigoureusement interdit,” later changed to the more formal “Le comite decline sa responsabilite des pour suites que pourrait entrainer l’exhibition du nu sur la voie publique,” instructions which were presumably expected to be ignored.

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In 1967, the chosen theme was to be the “Tour de Nesle,” but the ball never occurred due to failure to secure a location. And in May of 1968, student strikes at the Sorbonne led to the separation of the architecture department from the École, as well as the end of the Bal des Quat’z’Arts.

F.A. Bernett currently has a remarkable collection of these striking invitations, the themes of which include Ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, the entrance of Perseus into Athens, Carthage, Babylon, the Incas, the Vikings, the Aztecs, Samurai, and the sack of Rome.

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Bal des Quat’z’Arts.- . Collection of 61 Invitation Cards to the Bal des Quat’z’Arts, Paris, 1907-1966. 61 invitation cards and posters of various sizes, ranging from approx. 6″ x 6″ to 15 3/4″ x 11 13/16″, to the notorious annual costume ball (1892-1966) produced by and for students from the four divisions of the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris (Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, and Engraving), each lavishly illustrated by an artist or master from one of the ateliers with a representation of the year’s unique theme, most exotic and suggestive interpretations of historical, literary or foreign sources. Depicting decorative and figurative scenes, involving various artistic printmaking techniques including etching, engraving, letterpress, embossing, all in color, some folding, most with original perforated ticket coupons attached. Paris (Bal des Quat’z’Arts) 1907-1966. (47826)

 

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The École de Montmartre in 1920’s Paris

August 17, 2015

              Paris in the late 19th and early 20th century, especially during the periods known as the Belle Époque and les Années Folles, was a hotbed of intellectual and artistic life. During the former, Montmartre was abuzz with cafés, cabarets, and artists’ studios, with a large number of painters […]