“Le Chat Noir” (The Black Cat) was a famous place between 1881 and 1897, probably the first modern type of cabaret. It was created by Rodolphe Salis (1851-97). His first idea was to mix art and alcoholic beverage (absinthe…). Thus he opened a small and modest tavern at 84 Boulevard Rochechouart. A “Swiss Guard” at the entrance filtered the visitors – poets, painters… allowed, priests and military not allowed. The start was quite successful, partly thanks to the arrival of a group of artists and writers, who previously had been active on the Left Bank, “Les Hydropathes” (those who don't like water), founded by the poet and journalist Emile Goudeau (1849-1906).
The style of the cabaret is perhaps illustrated by the way customers were treated: Those who left early were insulted, those who arrived late were banished to a corner… Customers could be greeted by “Well, you are finally out of prison?” or, to clients accompanied by their wife, “What have you done with your chick from yesterday?”. The future King Edward VII was addressed by “Well, look here, he looks like the Prince of Wales all pissed”. Anyhow the place was visited by a lot of (later) famous artists, writers... On one of the photos below, you can see some of the personalities, including the painter Paul Signac.
Maybe a few words about the famous poster and sign of “Le Chat Noir” that we all recognise. It was created by (T.A.) Steinlen (1859-1923), who became a well-known painter and printmaker, represented in many leading museums.
Another artist involved was A.L. Willette (1857-1926), who decorated the place including the large painting “Parce Domine”, which now can be found at the Montmartre Museum (see previous posts). He later decorated a number of establishments, including the Moulin Rouge – he also designed the famous red mill.
The team around the cabaret also decided to create a weekly newspaper, which was published 1882-95, with contributors like Alphonse Allais, Guy de Maupassant, Victor Hugo, Edmond de Goncourt… and illustrators like Steinlen, Willette, Léandre, Caran d’Ache… Musical critics were signed by Charles Gounod, Jules Massenet…
The success meant that larger premises were needed and “Le Chat Noir” moved four years later, in 1885, to 12 rue Laval (now named Rue Victor Massé). The previous premises were taken over by one of the cabaret’s singing performers, Aristide Bruant (1851-1925), who became very popular and famous, partly thanks to often being portrayed by Toulouse-Lautrec. Now, the place is occupied by a souvenir shop.
The new premises were much spacier on several floors and also nicely (over-)decorated. The shows continued, with poets and singers performing, with the start of comic monologue (stand-ups), with a piano (Erik Satie was one of the pianists) and also with a specific room for “shadow plays”, created by the painter Henri Rivière (1864-1951), using some 20 assistants, and attracting large crowds – and later touring France). (Some remains of this have been saved and can be seen at the Montmartre Museum.)
Among names, not yet mentioned, who patronised or were frequent visitors to the establishment were Jane Avril, André Gill, Paul Verlaine, Claude Debussy, Yvette Guilbert, Coquelin Cadet, August Strindberg, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Seurat, Camille Pisarro…
The second “Le Chat Noir” closed with the death of its creator, Rodolphe Salis, in 1897. A third one opened some years later, at 68 Boulevard de Clichy. The building is gone… remains a brasserie with the name.