Monday, June 15, 2015

Paris in the Spring part 3: Party all night at the Moulin Rouge!

Everybody likes a party!  Dancing girls on stage, wine and other drinks flowing freely, and lively music.

Henri Toulouse Lautrec

In Montmartre, a village above Paris, there were plenty of nightclubs in 1889.  The men flocked to them, some wealthy, some less prosperous.  There was a reason for this dedicated patronage: Show Girls!  Yeah, sort of like Las Vegas, but without the electricity everywhere.

There were several of these popular clubs in the area.  Amid the Absinthe drinking crowds, there was an appreciation for the leggy dancers who whirled onstage in red skirts and lifted their legs to reveal the black stockings beneath those skirts. This may seem tame by today's standards, but in Victorian society, where fashions kept women laced up tight from ankle to neck, believe me when I say the men were titillated to see a little bit of thigh!  And, as a grand finale, sometimes the girls would line up and bend over to lift their skirts, revealing their scantily clad bottoms. Yeah, it was heaven for a man in that time period.
Poster by Toulouse Lautrec
The Moulin Rouge was the place to be. It opened in October of 1889, and became the most famous dance club of the time. Amid the glittering lights, as the club was illuminated by both gaslights and electric, there were many sights to see.  It was sort of like a circus atmosphere, with various stages holding amusements for the crowds.  And there were crowds, upwards of 2,000 a night.

Moulin Rouge 1898

The Moulin Rouge had a sensual appeal, with walls painted red, and showgirls making appearances on stage to lift their skirts for the patrons, who were at eye level with the stage.  Dancing girls, kind of like Las Vegas without the lights and machines. There were magicians, vaudeville acts, and singing women dressed in pink tights. And beneath the glittering lights excitement and sensuality ruled the evening.  Tables were laden with beverages such as Cherry Brandy, Champagne and Absinthe, and lively music was played by musicians. Think of jaunty piano music, loud crowds, heavy drinking, and nearly nude women, and you get the picture.

The back of the Moulin Rouge, in the garden, was a place for secret assignations and stolen kisses. The garden had a large stucco Elephant that had been rescued from one of the world's fair exhibits. It was hollow inside. Patrons could go up the winding stairs to the belly of the beast to admire female belly dancers who performed to a 'gentleman only' audience.

Add to the allure, the bare breasted women riding donkeys in the garden, the illuminated fountains, a stage with someone singing, and you get the picture, it was a gentleman's paradise.

The Moulin Galette was a competitor.  They had been established years earlier in Montmartre. Moulin, by the way, means mill. The area boasted many windmills in the 19th century, and a few, such as the Moulin Galette and the Moulin Rouge, were converted into Dance Halls.

The Moulin Galette was a popular place as well. It was on the outskirts of Montmartre, and had an open garden area where people could dance, sip wine and hang out away from prying eyes of society. Renoir painted this alluring place. You've probably seen this painting before.

Bal du Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

This is the back garden, where people could meet over drinks and enjoy the summer nights. Note the balls hanging above the dancers. Those were electric lights. So, this is still 'Victorian' society, but as you can see, the French were less rigid than the English at this time. You'll note women lounging and drinking with men in this scene, enjoying the evening air.

The Moulin Galette
Here from the outside, a street view.  Van Gogh was a frequent visitor here, as were other artists such as Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin.

The dance clubs or cabarets, were there to make money, to entertain men as serve as a place for wealthy men to meet lower class girls. The biggest draw of all was the women who danced at these places. Men came to see long legs clad in black stockings, and swirling skirts that enticed their every fantasy.  At one such club, the Reine Blanche, you could see Nini of the Beautiful Thighs.

The grandeur and the greed is staggering. And yet, if you're like Dan Wilson, a character in Some Enchanted Dream, a man from the future, you'll find these places a veritable paradise. He falls for a dance girl, and a little romance ensues. Being from the future, Dan will be more accepting of her profession than the men of Gisele's own time.

If you would like to see more images, go to my pinterest board to see more of Paris.

Lily's Pinterest Board on Paris in late 19th century

Next time, I'll talk a little about the Paris Expo.

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