Inventive to the End: Le Chat Noir’s Shadow Theatre

Hey, it’s the final Le Chat Noir post! We end with the amazing Shadow Theatre.

Imagine walking upstairs into a massive smoky room. Pearls of laughter and fierce discussions about the arts echo throughout it. Then on the stage, a host of shadows grace the stage. But it’s not a mere shadow puppet display you might put on with your siblings. They’re massive puppets of armies with intricate detail. The 2-D surface looks like it goes on for miles. The puppets play out wars and romance and revolutions.

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Wicked Humour: The Hydropathes and Incohérents

Artistic groups sprang from the cabarets of Montmartre. Two of these were the Incohérents and the Hydropathes. I had never heard of them before researching this topic. Likely because they’re both seminal groups for more famous movements like the Dadaists. Also because most of the information about them is in French. (I am not fluent.) But they’re an interesting bunch.

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Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre’s Mass Appeal

Aristide Bruant in his Cabaret, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893

In the cabaret class lines blurred. Members of higher classes wiggled into Montmartre to witness the raucous neighbourhood. They’d take part in the debauchery at a cabaret for a night. And then return to their own respectable homes.

Poster by Steinlen
In the Street (Gigolots and Gigolettes), Theophile Steinlen, 1895

Parisians could let their hair down at the cabarets in Montmartre. Upper-class Parisians dipped their toes into these freeing waters. Whether it was seeing sexy Can-Can dancers or raucous songs. Cabarets daringly made fun of bourgeoisie institutions. And they ate it up.

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Experiments, Spectacles, and Parody at Le Chat Noir

Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890, Paul Signac, 1890

Rodolphe Salis, the grandiose owner of Le Chat Noir, declared

“The Chat Noir is the most extraordinary cabaret in the world. You rub shoulders with the most famous men of Paris, meeting there with foreigners from every corner of the world.”

The thing is Salis wasn’t entirely wrong.

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