217 Years of History

photo: hotel istria, ateliers, campagne premiere

School demolition gives exclusive face view of the Hotel Istria and ateliers in the Rue Campagne Première.

On a Day In the Rue Campagne Première

Paris:- Friday, 22. September 2000:- One thing leads to another. Today's Paris episode concerns the Rue Campagne Première, but looking around a bit leads me first to the Grande Chaumière.

This is not the street, but a sort of beer garden that was started in 1783 by an Englishman named Tickson, at the corner of one of the Boulevards du Midi and the Boulevard d'Enfer - today the corner of the Boulevard Montparnasse and the Boulevard Raspail.

La Grande Chaumière began as a 'bal-jardin,' with a collection of thatched-roofed huts. Not long after, a restaurant operator named Fillard joined Tickson and they put up a two-story building that surrounded the popular garden, and for further amusement, a pistol-shooting range was added in 1814.

This was a smaller version of the Tivoli or the Beaujon pleasure gardens, butphoto: shop, tout pour la menage was the most popular. Fillard's son-in-law Benoît kept it in the family, and added a roller- coaster-like slide, called a 'Russian Mountain.'

An oft-repainted shop-front in the Rue Campagne Première today.

The place really took off when another son-in-law - nicknamed 'Le Père Lahire' - on account of being a very strong ex-grenadier - took it over in turn. He got permission to be its bouncer as well, because the sergeants provided by the city got into too many fights with the gardens' clients, who were mostly students.

All of this is to kind of introduce the idea that Montparnasse - with its disappeared hill and all - was an entertainment centre long before the 1920's; while it was still nearly beyond Paris' city limits - as is clearly marked on a map made in 1808, which shows nothing but surrounding fields or farmland.

The polka was first danced in Paris at La Grande Chaumière in 1845. Two other dances had their premieres here too - the 'Robert-Macaire' - and its racier version, the 'Can-Can.' And then the students sang:

"Messieurs les Etudients
Montez la Chaumière
Pour y danser l'Cancan
Et la Robert-Macaire..."

In the Père Lahire's time, another dance - the 'Chathut' - also became fashionable. It was a form of a quadrille; an exaggerated mixed-group version of the Cancan. Lola Montez danced the Chahut with the clown Auriol. This was one long step too far and it was banned by the police. Lola had been banned from other towns before.

Despite the famous Lola, the Grande Chaumière and the four other, smaller versions dotted around the same intersection, went out of fashion; but the garden was still there in 1912, and one tree from it is supposed to be at 229. Boulevard Raspail, but I don't find any sight of it.

The café-cabaret 'Chez Baty' opened in the same location - right at the tip between the boulevards, in 1870 and continued until 1923, which kind of brings us up-to-date.

Before 1914, the beginning of the Rue Grande Chaumière onphoto: 9 rue campagne premiere the opposite side of the boulevard, was known as 'Le Marché aux Modèles,' and the going rate was five francs for posing three hours.

I hope this explains why there were so many artists in Montparnasse - but I do not know which came first; the models or the artists. Whichever it was, students came before them - to the pleasure gardens - to this nearly out-of-town party-central.

At number 9, the entry to the cour full of artists' ateliers.

When I started this, I meant only to look at the Rue Campagne Première, but this had led to the Grande Chaumière, and the adjoining sections of the boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail; which form a triangle.

In 1900, the artists located around this 'belly-button' outnumbered those installed on Montmartre. It was a hot-bed of activity in the ten years leading up to WWI; and afterwards fully 40 percent of the artists were foreigners.

In the early 18th century, the Rue Campagne Première was country path to nowhere passing through property of General Taponier, called the Ruelle de Montparnasse.

Its present name comes from the general's first military campaign - possibly successful? - at Wissembourg in 1793. Improvements to the 266 metre-long road began in 1797 and it was enlarged in 1835 - from three to 12 metres.

Where the Rue Campagne Première meets the Boulevard Montparnasse, at the address number 146, the fête began with the Auberge des Rouliers up to 1921, followed by Le Caméléon until 1923, and in turn by Le Jockey, until 1930.

The second incarnation of the Caméléon was at number 241. Boulevard Raspail, which was at the other end of the Rue Campagne Première. This was directed by Alexandre Mercereau and known as the 'Sorbonne Montparnassian,' a sort of cabaret for music, songs, comedy, literature and the arts.

It closed after 1100 performances in 1927, and was followed by le Club des Artistes du Montparnasse, alsophoto: plaque, istria known as 'Aux Quat'femmes.' Under the direction of a Russian decorator of Italian origin, it lasted only one year.

So, for a while there was a entertainment establishment at either end of the street. Le Jockey was born in 1923 as an 'after' - for after the cafés on the boulevard closed.

It was started by an ex-jockey named Miller and the American painter, Hilaire Hiler. Its interior decor was minimal, but the outside was decorated with an Indian on a horse, some Mexican figures, and a neon sign.

Inside, in a drawing by Jean Oberlé, a sign says, "Kiki dances and sings Welsh Rarebit." The place was impossibly popular for its size.

Chez Rosalie opened in a dairy shop in the Rue Campagne Première in 1906, with four marble-topped tables and room for 24. Modigliani was a favored customer even if, after a shouting match in Italian with Rosalie, he ripped his drawings from the walls.

If things got really bad, they were all hauled off to the police station in the Rue Delambre, where they could admire Commissaire Zamaron's considerable collection of paintings. Then Modigliani would do new drawings for Rosalie.

Next door to the present gallery 'L'Atelier An. Girard' at number seven, is the sign-posted number nine. Its interior was built with remainders from Universal Expo in 1889 and still contains about 50 ateliers.

Residents here were Per and Lucy Krohg, Kiki's friend Thérèse Treize, and Othon Friesz, the painter. Further along, at number 17, Rainer Maria Rilke and Mina Loy had lodgings. Engène Atget lived at 17, bis.

A sign on the facade of the Hôtel Istria, says everybody stayed in it at one time or another. The buildingphoto: entry atget address next door, at number 31. and 31 bis, had been a horse barn until it was made into the four-story structure that remains today.

Engène Atget is remembered with a tiny and very old plaque at number 17, bis.

Man Ray had an atelier on the ground floor, and Louis Aragon, Otto von Wätjen and Elsa Triolet lived in the building.

I have been assured by a resident of the street that there still are artists living in the atelier complex at number nine, so I assume the same is true of number 31.

At any rate, when I cross the Boulevard Raspail to get another view, then I am standing in front of number 242, where Picasso had an atelier in 1912-13. In 1913-15, Amedo Modigliani had one further up, at 216 - about opposite the Hôtel de la Paix, which is a holdover from that time.

I take the Rue Schúlcher as a short-cut back. It has its odd buildings with very big windows.

I have come this way many times, so the plaque that mentions that Picasso moved here from Raspail in 1913, to the number 5 bis, to an atelier with a good view to the west over Montparnasse cemetery - these were 'Cubist' times too - so I know there is no plaque; nor one on the Boulevard Raspail.

It means that if you walk down the nearly ordinary-looking Rue Campagne Première and see the official city marker between numbers 7 and 9, it isn't going to tell you the whole story. What I have here is far from the whole story too.

From days of the La Grande Chaumière to today's Rue Campagne Première, it would be epic-sized. I even came across a mention that Rimbaud lived in the street - where, and for how long?

Maybe he lived in the Passage d'Enfer, a wide L-shaped closed road that joins the Rue Campagne Première to the ex-boulevard d'Enfer.

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