The Lapin Agile – a famous cabaret in a pink stone building, covered in ivy – is located on the northern slope of the Butte Montmarte, at the steep and cobbled 22 rue des Saules, Paris, France, at the corner of the rue Saint Vincent and the rue des Saules.
In existence since 1860, the nightclub was originally called “Cabaret des Assassins” and was a hangout for hashish users. There are several stories as to the reason for this moniker. One legend has it that the name came about because of a painting in the cabaret showing a murder of a serial killer named Troppman. Another legend claims that a band of assassins broke in and killed the owner’s son.
The cabaret was more than 20 years old when, in 1875, the painter-caricaturist André Gill turned it into a restaurant and painted a sign for the nightclub of a rabbit jumping from a saucepan. The locals started calling the cabaret “Le Lapin à Gill” or “Gill’s rabbit. Over time, the name evolved into “Lapin Agile” or “Nimble Rabbit.”
At the turn of the century, Aristide Bruant purchased the Lapin Agile and hired a man named Frederic Gerard as the manager. Gerard, who was called Père Frédé by all of the patrons, gave new life and “a definite artistic impetus to the cabaret.” It became a hot spot for struggling writers, painters, musicians, poets, comedians, and sculptors such as Picasso, Apollinaire, Derain, Braque, Modigliani, and Utrillo. “The historic richness of the Lapin Agile was born in the evenings, around the guitar and cello of Père Frédé, when everyone played, recited, sang their music and joined together singing popular songs.” It was also a popular place for pimps, eccentrics, students from the Latin Quarter, local anarchists, and a sprinkling of well-heeled bourgeois out on a lark.
(Above: Inside the Lapin Agile. Frédé is sitting on the right with a guitar; on the wall to the left of the large crucifix is the Picasso painting "Au Lapin Agile.")
Although the artist Maurice Utrillo most often painted the Lapin Agile, it was
Pablo Picasso’s 1905 oil painting Au Lapin Agile that is the most well known
and helped to make this cabaret world famous. In the painting Picasso is
represented as a harlequin and Frédé plays the guitar. This painting belonged
to the cabaret for years until in 1912 when Frédé sold it for twenty dollars. It
was then was auctioned at Sotheby's in 1989 for 41 million dollars!
Of all the stories that make up the folklore of the Lapin Agile, perhaps the most famous is the legend of the painter "Boronali" who’s work, exhibited at the annual Salon des Independants in Paris in 1910, earned lavish praise from the leading art critics of the time. The admiration turned into laughter when it became known that the picture "Sunset on the Adriatic sea" had been painted in front of the door of the Lapin Agile, and before an officer of the court, by Frédé's donkey Lolo, to whose tail had been tied a paint brush.
Above: Frédé's and his donkey, Lolo.
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Jack's Imitable Travel Guide
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