August Strindberg and Paris

August Strindberg (1849-1912), a Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist, painter… will soon get a square named after him in Paris – it will be officially inaugurated November 6. Well I think he’s worth it… he spent considerable time in Paris, he was and is still regularly played in the Paris theatres…

He spent some time in France already in the 1880’s, then together with his first wife (Siri von Essen), time shared between Paris and the “artist colony” in Grez-sur-Loing south of Paris (see previous post). He then also travelled through France and wrote about French farmers and peasants. We must know that he had learnt to talk and write in French.

Strindberg was back in Paris in the mid 1890’s (then about 45 and separated from his second wife), Paris, a place where he had gained a bit of reputation – some of his theatre plays had been staged, e.g. “Miss Julie” by André Antoine’s “Théâtre Libre” and “The Creditors” and “The Father” at the “L’Oeuvre” theatre.

However, what perhaps really links him to Paris may be two of his books: “Inferno” (1897), which was written in French (with some help from Marcel Réja, symbolist poet, doctor…) and “Legends” (1898), also partly written in French. They cover a period when Strindberg was obsessed by alchemy, occultism, Swedenborgianism…and showed signs of paranoia…consumed quite a bit of alcohol (absinthe…).  Some critics claim that he was “overdoing” his neurotic problems a bit in his writing.

These novels, “Inferno” and “Legends”, thus talk a lot about Paris. Strindberg visits, walks around, tells us about what he sees…mentions the names of streets, parks, cafés, restaurants…so somehow they are some kind of Paris guide-books although Strindberg of course concentrates on his various obsessions.

During this period he first lived at the rue de la Grande Chaumière, at no. 12 (see previous post). He was a frequent guest then and later in a café, Madame Charlotte’s “Crémerie” at no. 13, partly decorated by Alphonse Mucha, who lived on top of the café. Mucha was introduced to mysticism and occultism by Strindberg. There Strindberg also met and became close friend with Paul Gauguin, who then also lived in the street. Strindberg wrote an introduction to one of Gauguin’s exhibitions. … and they were singing and playing together, Gauguin the mandolin and Strindberg the guitar.

Strindberg was very much involved in scientific experiments and was a fan of the toxicologist and chemist Mathieu Orfila (1787-1853), went to see Orfila’s tomb at the Montparnasse Cemetery (see previous post)…

 ... and then during one of his walks found a “Hotel Orfila”, at 62 rue d’Assas, and decided to move there. (He was annoyed by some too energetic piano players, his neighbours at his previous address.)

He had some other addresses before and later in Paris (the red dots in the "map" below”), but I believe that the two I have mentioned are the major ones. One of the other addresses was close to the Jardin des Plantes, on which he actually also wrote a book.

“Hotel Orfila” was very close to one of his favourite places, the Luxemburg Gardens (see previous posts). He mentions how he enters the Garden via the Rue Fleurus gate, admires the Medici Fountain…  (see previous post)

Other walks include Rue de le Gaîté (see previous post) with a number of theatres, cafés…

… and Rue Delambre (see previous post), where he possibly (?) bought cheese at no. 8 – still a cheese shop, neighbour to the “Dingo Bar” (now “Auberge de Venise”) where one day Hemingway and Fitzgerald met…

Talking about cafés, drinking… one of his favourite cafés was the “Closerie des Lilas” (see previous post). He mentions the place several times in his writings, talks about his special table… Well, he actually still has “his” table there – shared with Max Jacob, André Breton and J.M. de Heredia. I took a glass of brouilly in Strindberg’s honour – he would probably have been drinking something stronger.

“Absinthe at six o’clock on the terrace of the brasserie Closerie des Lilas behind Marshal Ney has become my only vice, my last joy…”  

The “Place Strindberg” will be located just behind the Saint Sulpice Church (see previous posts). Why there? Well, we are in his neighbourhood… and he talks about the Church in “Legends” - actually the chapter “Jacob wrestles” refers to the Delacroix painting in the Church (see previous post). Jacob becomes an alter ego, in Strindberg’s mind illustrating the combat between the artist as a person and “Art”.

I plan to be there for the inauguration. I may tell you about it.  

As top picture I chose to show two portraits of Strindberg by his friend Edvard Munch, three paintings by Strindberg – yes he was an excellent painter – a “selfie” and one photo of him playing the guitar. 


R.Ewen said...

Surprised you mentioned Graz-sur-Loing. A great little community with interesting walking areas.
Enjoyed your treatise. You must be proud of your countryman.

Jean(ne) said...

Such an interesting post, thank you, Peter. I always learn so much from you.

Anonymous said...

A fabulous post and an accurate tribute to this wonderful plawright!

Seems that both coffee (Balzac) and absinthe (Strindberg) were without fail the fuel for their prolific geniuses? Sixty plays in the case of Strindberg? Just WOW...

Thank you, Peter.


Shammickite said...

Thank you to Peter, you are giving me an education in the artistic community in Paris in the previous century.

Jeanie said...

Oh Peter, what a fun, deep, colorful and intriguing and fascinating post! I had no idea Strindberg and Mucha were friends or that he spent so much time in Paris! I haven't read him since college but read a lot then. Well, some of these haunts will go on my next-time list!