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Paris

“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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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 including Renoir, Utrillo, Dufy, Picasso, Dalí, Mondrian, Monet, Pissarro, van Gogh, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Modigliani associated with the area. After the outbreak of World War I, however, many of the artists left the neighborhood and decamped to the Montparnasse quarter on the left bank. Whereas the artists of Montmartre had associated together more on the basis of status rather than artistic taste, those in Montparnasse were more of an economically and socially homogeneous group, comprised of penniless emigrant artists from around the world who flocked to Montparnasse for the cheap rent and the creative atmosphere, often selling their works to buy enough food to eat and spending hours in the cafés and bars of the area. The Montparnasse group included at various times Léger, Picasso, Apollinaire, Cocteau, Chagall, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Modigliani, Ezra Pound, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Duchamp, Gris, Giacometti, Breton, Samuel Beckett, Miró, and many others. Dabbling in cubism, futurism, expressionism, and realism, among other styles, these artists are today often grouped loosely under the “School of Paris” umbrella.

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Unhappy with some of the perceived commercialism and possible quarreling between these two “rival” factions, a small group of artists headed by Georges Joubin decided to found their own, regrettably short-lived, artistic movement which they dubbed the École de Montmartre. Together with Guy Dollian, Jean Frelezeau, Edouard Hofer, Henri Rioux, and Pierre Bonnard, Joubin began holding meetings for a small group of like-minded artists in December of 1928, and in early 1929 published a manifesto. Distributed in Paris and signed off on by 16 artists, this document clearly laid out their wishes for this group and their intentions going forward. The manifesto opens with the following strong words:

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“Montmartre, the old popular heart of Paris, invaded by a rabble of merchants, beggars, and moral derelicts, is nothing more to the public mind than a place for the unbridled actions of a few delirious roisterers. We desire to revise this judgment and attempt to restore to the chosen quarters of Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Utrillo, its true aspect. Grouped under the banner of the ECOLE DE MONTMARTRE, it is not a puerile picturesque cult which unites us, old alleys, dilapidated houses, sentimental bric-a-bracs, or the effusion of a faded youthfulness which the rhythm of life effaces.

We believe to be able to realize a plan, not fed on abstractions, but with its very root sunk deep in life itself, a plan of flesh and blood, a living expression of our time, while staying as stranger to the masquerades of fagged and faded humorists, as to the combines of speculators of modern art. Our intention is not to awaken the old and useless quarrels of the right shore and left shore.”

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The manifesto goes on to denounce commercialism, the circus-like atmosphere some artists have cultivated, and snobbery, while extolling the virtues of honest emotion and human expression, ideas which they hoped to perpetuate and spread through exhibitions, lectures, publications, and by encouraging other artists to form similar groups. In fact, on the last page of the brief manifesto is a short blurb imploring those who were moved by the document to please send a letter to them at 22, Rue Tourlaque, to be kept abreast of the group’s actions.

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This archive is an incredible historical record of the activities of the École de Montmartre, from the initial kernel of an idea to the publication of the official manifesto and beyond. Containing well over 100 individual items, from meeting minutes to letters from interested parties addressed to the École to contemporary newspaper clippings, this is a unique collection of original articles that documents an entire artistic movement at a crucial point in Paris’s artistic history.

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L’École de Montmarte: a significant archive of documents. A fantastic and scarce archive of original documents relating to the founding of the École de Montmartre in Paris in 1929, spearheaded by a small group of artists including Georges Joubin, Guy Dollian, Jean Frelezeau, Edouard Hofer, Henri Rioux, and Pierre Bonnard. Various sizes and formats. Loose sheets in a paper folder. Paris circa 1920-1930.

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Contents include:

– Témoignages: Organe Mensuel de l’Ecole de Montmartre, nos. 1 (October 1930). 2 (November 1930), and 3 (December 1930), 2 copies of each of the first two issues, containing original signed engravings by André Foy, André Hofer, André Deslignières, and Marcel Gimond.
– Two typed copies of the “Manifeste de l’École de Montmartre”, dated 1929, 2 pp. each, one bearing the signatures of Jean Puy, André Hofer, Luigi Corbellini, and Pierre Dionisi, the other bearing the signatures of Georges Joubin, the founder of the École de Montmartre, and Charles Camoin.
– “Buts de l’Association”, 8 pp. typed, containing a list of the society’s goals, beliefs, and objectives, bearing signatures of approximately 17 artists including Pierre Bonnard, Georges Joubin, André Hofer, André Foy, André Dignimont, Roland Oudot, and Jules Pascin.
– Official “Récépissé de Déclaration d’Association” issued by the République Française, dated February 13, 1929, establishing the École de Montmartre as an official association.
– Minutes from meetings of the École de Montmartre: December 16, 1928 (first meeting) through December 5, 1929, hand-written on a pad of paper. Present at the first meeting, held at the home of Georges Joubin at 22 rue Tourlaque in Paris were 6 artists including Henri Rioux, Jean Frelezeau, Edouard Hofer, Georges Joubin, and Guy Dollian. May 20 and June 17, 1930 are typed.
– A group of approximately 19 handwritten letters and notes from affiliated artists regarding the manifesto and the École, including André Foy, Edouard Hofer, André Dignimont, Pere Créixams, Roland Oudot, Carlos Raymond, Charles Chamoin, and Pierre Bonnard.
– A group of approximately 39 letters and notes and 11 calling cards from art critics, editors, writers, painters, and other figures in response to the manifesto, typed and hand-written, including Léon Lemonnier, Antonio Coen, Georges Valois, Octave Charpentier, Maurice Fréjacques, André Lebey, Pierre Vorin, Jules Adler, Raymond and Alfred Machard, Eugene L’Hoest, Claude Aveline, Louis Richard, Marc Chesneau, and Jacques Forconi.
– A collection of approximately 47 contemporary newspaper clippings about the École de Montmartre and its artists, most from 1929, varying in length from short blurbs to longer articles, many with pen notations.
– Two printed copies of the official manifesto, published by Maurice Lavergne, listing the authors as “Asselin, Pierre Bonnard, Corbellini, Creixams, Deslignières, Dignimont, Guy Dollian, Florias Tin, André Foy, Frelezeau, Hensel, André Hofer, Joubin, Pascin, Henri Rioux, Daniel Viau.” One copy is accompanied by three sheets of ruled paper, written on five out of six sides, containing the names, addresses, and signatures of approximately 68 people who were interested in the movement and wanted to be kept apprised of future events.
– A typed copy of the manifesto translated into English.
– Three hand-written drafts of the manifesto.
– Two posters, one in pieces, the other dated December 29, 1922.

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Sem (pseudonym for Georges Goursat).  Sem au Bois (title stamped in gilt on front cover).  N.p. (Paris?) ca. 1908.   Signed and dated 29/4/08 in pencil on the last plate; 6 other plates with the artist’s printed insignia.  [45958]

Caricature from “Sem au Bois,” identified by Prof. Pau Medrano Bigas as Jagatjit Singh Bahadur (1872-1949), Maharadjah of Kapurthala State under British Colonial rule.

“And if you happen to be an historian of Belle Epoque Paris (clever you) and recognize anyone among the caricatures, please let us know in the comments field…”

— UPDATE, May 2011:

When first I wrote about Georges “Sem” Goursat’s 1910 leporello Sem au Bois about a year ago, I ended the post with an invitation, asking readers to share any insights they might have as to the real-world identities of the faces caricatured in Sem’s well-heeled crowd of Boulogne woods revelers.

Last week, Pablo Medrano Bigas, Associate Professor of Design and Image at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Universitat de Barcelona answered the call.  Clever him, indeed, and lucky us. Not only has he positively identified several of the processional’s key figures, he’s also supplied a wealth of historical background information to further our understanding the illustration’s form and content.

[click to continue…]

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The First Flight from New York to Paris

Thumbnail image for The First Flight from New York to Paris May 2, 2011

The First Flight from New York to Paris by Colonel Ch. A. Lindbergh. Lavish privately printed presentation album commemorating Lindbergh’s solo crossing of the Atlantic, this copy extra-illustrated with a large silver print photograph of the Spirit of St. Louis in flight over Paris, signed by Lindbergh and tipped onto front free endpaper.  Thick, square […]

Felix Vallotton’s Reinvention of the Woodcut

Thumbnail image for Felix Vallotton’s Reinvention of the Woodcut February 1, 2011

Meier-Graefe, Julius. Felix Vallotton, Biographie: Des Kuenstlers nebst dem Wichtigsten teil seines Bisher Publicierten Werkes & Einer Anzahl Unedierter Originalplatten; De Cet Artiste avec la Partie la Plus Importante de son Oeuvre Editee et Differentes Gravures Originales & Nouvelles. Berlin/Paris (J. A. Stargardt/Edmond Sagot) n.d. (ca. 1898).  Freitag 12821. [41835] Painter, playwright, critic and man […]

30 Year in Face 800 Year in Heart: In Memoriam Walasse Ting.

My Shit and My Love December 20, 2010

Brussels. Galerie Smith. My Shit and My Love: Ting. 1961. Signed by Ting on inside front cover; limited to 1099 copies. $250 [46359] Walasse Ting died at the age of 80 on May 17, 2010. He is remembered as a mischievous bon vivant, prodigious womanizer and prolific artist who recognized few boundaries between his practice in […]

The Bois de Boulogne and Sem au Bois: Belle Epoque Paris and the Pageantry of the Passing Spectacle

http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1012/4596067321_1c5b7c68e9_t.jpg May 11, 2010

Sem (pseudonym for Georges Goursat).  Sem au Bois (title stamped in gilt on front cover).  N.p. (Paris?) ca. 1908.   Signed and dated 29/4/08 in pencil on the last plate; 6 other plates with the artist’s printed insignia.  [45958] A jewel in the crown of Baron Haussmann’s modernized Paris, the Bois de Boulogne opened as a […]

Lucien Vogel’s Le Style Parisien

Le Style Parisien January 7, 2010

Le Style Parisien.  Numbers 1 (July 1915) through 7 (February 1916) (all published; lacking 8 pp. text). Paris (Librairie Centrale des Beaux-Arts) 1915-1916.  [45884] It may not have been the most avant-garde publication of its time, but Le Style Parisien served as an important bridge between the emerging capitals of  European fashion — chiefly Paris […]