Maisons closes - brothels

From the latter part of the 19th century until 1946 – when they were outlawed, (also) Paris had a reputation for its “maisons closes”, brothels.

Among the most famous was “Le Chabanais” (12, rue Chabanais), created in 1878 and thus lasting, as all the others, until 1946. A lot of luxury, some 30 ladies… Kings, princes, actors, authors … went there for their pleasure, but it was obviously also a place where people just socially met, including some women, e.g. Marlene Dietrich. In those days the French government even often included a visit to “Le Chabanais” as part of the program during state visits.  The building is still there, but nothing reminds us about its past. All equipment and furniture were sold at an auction in 1951.

The most famous customer was obviously “Bertie”, the future Edward VII, who had his own room, his own bath-tub (to be filled with champagne) and a very special kind of chair. (I would need a handbook.) Salvador Dali later became the owner of the bath-tub and placed it in his room at the Hotel Meurice. 

The reputation for top brothel was a bit later taken over by the “One-two-two” (122, rue de Provence), which opened in the 1920’s. Once again, the list of kings and princes is impressive, but there are a lot of other names like Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart… and again a number of women like Marlene Dietrich (again), Mae West, Katherine Hepburn, Edith Piaf … Once again we can see that these brothels also were where you could, should, “be seen”.  A movie called “One-two-two” came out in 1978. 

“Le Sphinx” (31, boulevard Edouard-Quintet) was created quite late, in 1931, in a rather Egyptian style. It was also highly fashionable with some 65 ladies. The building is gone.  

“La Fleur Blanche” (6, rue des Moulins) is especially known for having had Toulouse-Lautrec as a very frequent guest (a permanent room booked). He made a number of paintings from the place (see top picture). On one of the paintings we can see two ladies preparing for the regular medical inspection. (A lot not so nice could be said about these inspections.) 

“Aux Belles Poules” (32, rue Blondel) is one of the few brothels which has kept its outside and partly also inside looks. I managed to get in, but not as far as I wanted. One of my blogger friends, JPD, managed to get some inside pictures, which I partly have copied. You can see his post here. What was specific for some of these establishments is how the street number is designed. This was a very neutral way to “show the way” – possibly even made compulsory by the authorities? 

You find a similar type of house number also at “Chez Miss Beety” (36, rue Saint-Suplice). Its location just opposite a side door of the Saint-Sulpice Church made it very popular among the priests or members of the church.

There were tens of these more “official” ones, not mentioning the less “official”. Here are a few more, where the buildings still stand. 

When it comes to the “stolen” illustrations, I found sometimes the same ones illustrating the interior of different brothels. I hope that most of the ones I show are for the “right place”.

As mentioned above, all these establishments were closed in 1946, actually totally some 1.400 in France whereof some 180 in Paris. The law carries the name of Marthe Richard (1889-1982), an ex-prostitute and spy, who later became a politician. One reason why the law passed rather easily may have been that some of the most prestigious brothels had been more or less confiscated by the Nazi occupants. 


French Girl in Seattle said...

Such dedication in your investigative reporting, dear fellow blogger! Cool story. Somehow, the lives of Parisian prostitutes today, in the Bois de Boulogne or the Bois de Vincennes, don't seem quite so glamorous. Just shared this most excellent post with the French Girl in Seattle community on FB. A bientôt. Repose-toi, Peter ;-)

Elizabeth at Eiffel Tells said...

A fascinating and detailed post, especially as I've just finished reading the biography, "The Mistress of Paris". Thank you for this unusual tour.

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating!
Not even with the help of my lush imagination I could ever know exactly how it was that these places looked inside. Now I do.

I love anything about Monsieur de Toulouse-Lautrec. He was a decent man with a heart of gold. He was very young, only 22 when he met the young Suzanne Valadon, his neighbor in Montmartre. The way he treated her, the way he built her spirits and her soul with his compassionate manner was priceless, the way he gave her his support as only a true gentleman could know. He was to her the brother she never had and they became inseparable. I see most of the ladies in his paintings with red hair. No doubt Suzanne Veladon's tresses must have inspired him. I'm sure he treated those ladies with the same kindness and understanding he had for women in general.

The beauty of this post is so complete, it has everything about life.
Thank you, Peter

Edith de Belleville said...

Dear Peter ,

Great article !.
When I do my guided visit about brothels in Paris , I always end explaining the Swedish legal system of prostitution which criminalizes the client of the prostitute .France will , one day or another, follow Sweden , as Norway and Iceland did already.
I'd like to have your opinion . As a Swede , what do you think of the Swedlsh legal system of prostitution?. Do you think it could work in France ?.

claude said...

Je me rappelle que pendant une de nos balades parisiennes où nous étions que tous les deux tu m'en avais montrée une, peut-être bien le Chabanais.
La chaise est intrigante.
La question reste toujours posée, fallait-il supprimer les maisons close ou pas ?
Elles avaient de la belle clientèles ces Dames !

Nathalie H.D. said...

Interesting to hear that some of the photos you find on the net are sometimes attributed to the wrong place. It says something about how dubious the info found on the Internet can sometimes be. Anyway, you did some great research there.

I'd be interested to hear what your response to Edith's question above will be.

To me it is the client's responsibility to make sure the lady he wants to have sex with is indeed a fully consenting adult and not the victim of a prostitution network. I can't accept men getting away with not asking themselves the question, therefore actively supporting human slavery.

Studio at the Farm said...

What a unique subject! Thank you, Peter, for your research and photos of this part of Parisian history.

Jeanie said...

Peter, when I look at the volume of posts you have done, I always wonder, what can you possibly come up with next! Well, this one was fascinating! Who knew? Count on Peter to tell us. Thank you for wonderful illustrations and great info!