Le Cabaret du Chat Noir (1881-1897)

Henri RivièreMembers of the "Chat noir" conversing round a table© ADAGP, Paris © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR
The Musée d'Orsay mounted an exhibition on the theme of the Chat Noir cabaret, a meeting point of the Paris elite at the end of the 19th century, centred on its poets, chansonniers and writers. The cabaret was at the foot of the Montmartre hill, in a quarter where cafés, balls and circuses were then opening and which through the years was to evoke bohemia and pleasure.

The Chat Noir's atmosphere and success primarily rested on the presence and personality of Rodolphe Salis, who created, directed and hosted the cabaret, to the extent of making it a place sought after by anybody who displayed some literary or artistic curiosity. Rodolphe Salis was a jack-of-all trades : a poet, an extraordinary story-teller, but also a highly effective businessman who knew how to surround himself with the best of the new talents.

Three aspects of the Chat Noir were evoked in this documentary exhibition :
First, the journal which appeared during more than ten years, the only one to have such a lifespan at the time. It is considered an essential link in the story of comic strips.

The chansonnier song, secondly, was really born in the Chat Noir. It was a social fact of the Montmartre life of the last years of the nineteenth century.

Lastly, the Chat Noir and the shadow theatre will always be associated in people's minds. It was in this cabaret that Henri Rivière drew this show and this technique to its apex, achieving real marvels, approaching the techniques of painting and stained glass : 45 plays were performed.


Mariel Oberthür, art historian, former curator in the Montmartre museum

25 February - 24 April 1992
Musée d'Orsay

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