Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Montmartre: Le Bateau-Lavoir (Picasso, et al)
Picasso invented cubism at 13, place Émile-Goudeau
Modern art was born at Le Bateau-Lavoir, a former Montmartre piano factory converted to artist studios. It got its nickname because the flat-roofed structure resembled the laundry boats that once docked along the Seine.
One tenant described it as “…a weird squalid place filled with every kind of noise: arguing, singing, the clattering of bedpans, slamming of doors and suggestive moaning from behind the studio portals.”
From 1890 to 1920 some of the most talented writers and artists of the day lived and worked at Le Bateau-Lavoir: Picasso, Modigliani, Braue, Juan Gris, Van Donges and poet Max Jacob, among many others. An unknown Pablo Picasso moved in here in 1904 and painted “Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon (1907),” which is regarded as the painting that began Cubism. This work (see photo above) now hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The name by which it is known today was attributed by others. Picasso always called it "The Bordello," and it was deemed obscene when first shown to the public.
However, writer Roland Dorgèles, in teasing protest against the Bateau-Lavoir camp, once tied a paintbrush to the tail of a donkey belonging to the Lapin Agile cabaret and sold the result for 400 francs! Le Bateau-Lavoir burned down in the 1970s but was later rebuilt. A plaque on the building recounts its historical significance.