Belle Époque: Music and Art

Tempe Nell, Public Programmes at The Courtauld Gallery

The period between 1870 and 1914 has been called by some La Belle Époque – or the Beautiful Era – a time when Paris grew as a hive of musical, literary and artistic activity.

French and international composers, artists and writers congregated in the bohemian cafes and dance halls of Montmatre, where they shared creative and political ideas.

I have put together a Belle Époque themed playlist ahead of this week’s Bohemian Paris Late

In this post I am going to look in detail at how composers, artists and performers came into contact with each others’ work through the café culture of Paris in the late 19th century.

I am also going to focus on how the sexuality of women became a major theme across the arts during this time.

Cross-fertilisation in the arts

Collaboration and cross-fertilisation between the arts was rich in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The poet Charles Baudelaire, who provided inspiration and friendship to many fellow creative professionals, called for the arts to portray modern life honestly in his influential essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ (1863).

Modern Life is a theme synonymous with the French Realist and Impressionist painters, particularly for the work of Édouard Manet (Bar at the Folies Bergere), but modern life also characterises the lyrics of popular songs of the Café Concerts.

Baudelaire explored the interlinking of the sensory worlds of the arts in his poem ‘Correspondances’ (1857), writing:

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“Vast as the dark of night and as the light of day,
Perfumes, sounds, and colours correspond.”

(translation William Aggeler, 1954)

 

Composers including Erik Satie and Claude Debussy immersed themselves in café life, enjoying their bohemian freedom and eclectic company. Satie wrote for and performed in the nightclub Le Chat Noir, although this was partly out of necessity to make a living (Satie – Gymnopedie (1888) and Gnossienes No. 1 (1890)).

Image representing "Project pour un buste de M. Eric Satie", Eric Satie, Date unknown

Erik Satie, Project pour un buste de M. Erik Satie, Date unknown

 

Satie also drew, playing with caricature designs for his own bust, which was never realised (see above). Debussy explored sound worlds that adopted the ephemerality and atmospheric qualities we associate with Impressionist art, although he was himself critical of such associations (Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894) and Nuages [Clouds] (1899)).

The composer Saints-Saëns painted exquisitely rich imagery through his music ‘The Carnival of the Animals’ (including The Swan, The Fossils and The Aquarium).

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Women and objectification in Belle Époque Music and Art

The role of women at the beginning of this period was still very much determined by their relationship to men.

Artists such as Degas, Renoir and Manet repeatedly portray women in various different guises, often betraying their own anxieties about the sexuality of women in the modern world. Female performers, prostitutes and courtesans in particular presented a challenge to men as they crossed the boundaries between private and public life.

Painting Jane Avril in the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, painted around 1892

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Jane Avril in the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge, c.1892

 

The Moulin Rouge, Chat Noir and Folies-Bergère played host to performances ranging from cabaret to acrobatics and versatile star performers, such as the dancer Jane Avril painted by Toulouse Lautrec (Room 7) enjoyed great celebrity.

Two other performers portrayed by Toulouse-Lautrec were Yvette Guilbert (see below) and Polaire who performed comic and sometimes lewd songs often about the lives of performers, prostitutes and courtesans during Café Concerts.

 

View of Yvette Guilbert by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, around 1893

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Yvette Guilbert, 1893

 

Madame Arthur and Le Fiacre were written and performed by Guilbert, the first describing a courtesan with a trail of suitors and the second, a woman’s bumpy ride with a gentleman in a horse-drawn carriage.

Tha-ma-ra-boum-di-e (1891), an American song became a major hit for Polaire at the Folies-Bergère music hall, recounting the story of a young woman’s awakening sexuality. For a little light contrast, the song Frou Frou  humorously explores the dangers of women cycling in trousers (!).

Performers themselves often involved in prostitution, even the young ballet dancers from the Opera as painted famously by Edgar Degas would be preyed on by gentlemen audience members who could pay their way backstage.

Emile Zola’s novel Nana (1880) follows the story of a courtesan and theater performer, whose sexuality and powerful stage performances attract and repulse her audiences and destroy her pursuers. Manet used the title ‘Nana for his portrait of the theater performer and courtesan Henriette Hauser in 1877.

This painting was rejected by the Paris Salon, which remained a formal environment where such themes were unacceptable. Ballets and operas also addressed the sexualisation of women in a public arena, for example in the ballet Coppélia by Léo Delibes (1870) where the fantasy of an automated dancing doll threatens the relationship of a young couple, and in Bizet’s opera Carmen (1874) where the seductive title-figure expresses her sexuality openly.

 

View of Two Dancers on the Stage by Edgar Degas and painted in 1874

Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on the Stage, 1874

 

It was not uncommon for female employees cabaret venues to sell their bodies to supplement their wages. In Manet’s painting Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) he leaves open the possible interpretation that a negotiation of such a transaction is being made between the barmaid and a customer in the mirror reflection on the right.

Themes of prostitution and crime are dealt with more explicitly in the café song A Saint-Lazare by Artistide Bruant in the voice of a prostitute writing to her pimp from prison where she is being treated for a venereal disease. Even female audience members couldn’t escape objectification, for example in Renoir’s La Loge (1874) a gentleman audience-member ignores his companion, possibly his mistress judging by her make-up and bright clothing, and leans back with his binoculars to ogle another attractive woman in the audience who is out of view.

 

View of A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Edouard Manet painted around 1881-2

Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-2

 

 

The Courtauld: First for Impressionists

This summer, you might have spotted our First for Impressionists campaign if you’ve been travelling by tube..

First for Impressionists tube campaign

Or train…

First for Impressionists train campaign

Or maybe you’ve spotted our beautiful new banner and shop windows outside Somerset House…

The Courtauld Gallery Shop - Strand entrance

We also now also have a lovely new video featuring our Curator of Paintings Dr Karen Serres as she discusses our world famous collection of Impressionist paintings – starring Monet, Degas, Gauguin and Van Gogh amongst many others.

 

Courtauld Pairings

What do Christ ascending to heaven and a Parisian trapeze artist have in common? 

Ivory diptych

Ivory diptych with scenes from the Childhood and Passion of Christ (see the full image)

Manet's 'A Bar at the Folies-Bergere'

Edouard Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (see the full image)

 

Suspension!

Can you think of any other ‘suspended’ works in our collection?

Leave a comment below, tweet us @CourtauldGall or find us on Facebook 

Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery

Dr Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator on Works on Paper

What makes up the largest portion of The Courtauld Gallery’s collection? You might be surprised by the answer…

Prints. Over 24,000 of them, to be precise.

The second Summer Showcase display to highlight a particular aspect of the Gallery’s permanent collection, Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery explores this largest but least well known portion of the collection.

This display of 30 prints spans five centuries and covers most of the major printmaking techniques, from engraving to etching, lithography, wood engraving, woodcut and drypoint.

View of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Jockey, 1899.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), The Jockey, 1899, Lithograph

Selecting the display from such a vast collection was certainly a challenge, similar to that undertaken by my colleagues Joanna Selborne and Lizzie Jacklin for their parallel display of prints from the Witt Library, Purpose and Process: British and French Printmaking, 1600-1900.

In choosing the works, I wanted to give visitors an idea of the breadth and depth of the collection, to highlight its strengths and to give a sense of the way its three principal donors shaped it.

The vast majority of the print collection comes from Sir Robert Witt (1872-1952), one of the founders of The Courtauld. Witt created an image library to serve as a research and educational tool for students, scholars and curators, and the more than 20,000 prints that formed part of it (along with thousands of photographs and catalogue cuttings) are mostly reproductive – that is, they reproduce works of art in other media.

Purpose and Process focuses on this aspect of the Witt collection, so I decided to highlight instead some of the small but choice group of ‘master prints’ (prints conceived and executed by artists as original works of art) that came from the Witt Library – a very rare etching by French Mannerist Jacques Bellange, an exquisitely detailed print by Jacques Callot that was made for a city festival in Florence and intended to be mounted and distributed to spectators in the form of a fan, and an allegory of the visual arts by Flemish artist Johannes Stradanus that gives pride of place to printmaking, to name a few.

Jacques Callot, The Fan (The Battle of King Weaver and King Dyer), 1619, Etching

Jacques Callot, The Fan (The Battle of King Weaver and King Dyer), 1619, Etching

Many of The Courtauld’s Old Master prints came to us from Count Antoine Seilern (1901-1978), a scholar-collector who bequeathed them along with his superb collection of paintings and drawings. Some of the gems from his collection included in the display include important early engravings and etchings by Andrea Mantegna and Parmigianino and masterpieces by a trio of eighteenth-century Venetian artists – Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Canaletto and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

View of the etching 'smoking fire' by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778).

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), Smoking fire, 1749-1760, Etching

It’s also thanks to Seilern that we have a rare impression of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s enigmatic Rabbit Hunt, the only print the artist executed himself. With stunning naturalism, Bruegel depicts a vast landscape in which is hidden a hunter aiming at two rabbits who appears to be stalked by another hunter himself – perhaps an illustration of the proverb ‘He who pursues two rabbits at once, will lose both.’

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rabbit Hunt, 1560 Etching,

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rabbit Hunt, 1560 ,Etching

The Courtauld’s renowned collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art includes prints alongside paintings and drawings (many of them given by Samuel Courtauld himself), and they’re well-represented here, with an etching by Edouard Manet, a wood engraving by Paul Gauguin, and lithographs by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard.

The display also gives us a chance to show how artists have continued to turn to printmaking in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with prints by Picasso, Matisse, Lucian Freud, Chris Ofili and Linda Karshan. Together, they give a taste of how artists today continue to revive and reinvent printmaking techniques, turning them to different ends.

Linda Karshan, N.E. 1, 2002, Etching and drypoint

Linda Karshan, N.E. 1, 2002, Etching

We hope you’ll come and make a few discoveries of your own among the Courtauld’s prints.

Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery runs 19 June-21 September.

Let's Get Grayson and turn The Courtauld into 'Grayson's Bar'

Let's Get Grayson

We’re REALLY excited that The Courtauld Gallery has been shortlisted for Connect 10, the competition which gives venues the chance to win a top artist for their Museums at Night event.

We’re in with a chance to work with Grayson Perry for our late event and need YOUR help to win!

We’re up against four shortlisted venues and the museum with the most votes will win Grayson!

If we win we have proposed that we will run an event inspired by Manet’s famous painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.

Utilising the theme of a bar we will create interventions and encounters within the gallery. Like Manet’s barmaid, Grayson will be at the centre of a night of merriment and convivial conversation.

At ‘Grayson’s Bar’, Perry could work with the assembled crowd and draw together thoughts about a contemporary version of the painting – creating a collaborative new picture of modern life in London in 2014.

VOTE

Vote online or pop into the gallery and cast your vote at admissions. The public vote runs from 11am on Tuesday 14 January to 5pm on Tuesday 28 January.