The Prince of Montparnasse

photo: le select, montparnasse

Le Select as it is today is pretty much as it was in 1926.

25 Years of High-Life

Paris:- Wednesday, 8.November 2000:- Julius Mordecai Pincas was born in Vidin, Bulgaria in 1885 and he died as Pascin in his Montmartre atelier in Paris in 1930.

Between the two dates, Pascin also managed with ease to become the symbol of Montparnasse; its living incarnation. Why nobody remembers him as Montparnasse's unofficial 'Prince' of the '20's is a mystery.

Exiled by his father from provincial Vidin, Pascin studied art in Germany, but ended up selling drawings to magazines; including to 'Simplicissimus,' beginning in 1905. But a grand retrospective of Van Gogh's in Munich in 1903 had made Paris the place to be.

For Pascin, Montparnasse started on Sunday, 24. December 1905 when he arrived from Munich, to join the friends he had made there. These included old pals Rudolf Grossmann and Georg Grosz, who met him at the station - exceptionally! - and conducted him to the terrace of the Dôme.

If he and his friends were not working or eating or sleeping, the Dôme was their home, their living room; open to all comers. In 1908, the Scandinavians, the eastern Europeans, the artists from the Balkans, all funneled through Germany to arrive at the Dôme - they were, collectively, Les Dômiers.

To forget the hard work of their ateliers, and when they ran out of talk, they oftenphoto: le dome, sign played poker - at the center of the room at the front. It was a non-stop game played for years. In a middle-Europe tradition, the Dôme was their stammtisch.

But the Dôme is totally changed; except for its location.

They made no particular attempt to participate in the salons in Paris, nor in exhibitions in their home countries. In June 1914, there was one exhibition at Flechtheim's gallery in Düsseldorf. It was called 'Der Dôme' and 23 artists showed there, not all of them Germans, not of any 'movement;' they were merely all these Dômiers.

When Pascin arrived, he installed himself in the Hôtel des Ecoles in the Rue Delambre around the corner from the café, and he stayed in the hotel until 1908.

With his humor, he became the figure at the centre of the Dômiers. At the café, he would demand paper and turn out sketch after sketch; sometimes adding color with 'marc,' a raw brandy like 'grappa' or by lightly singeing the paper with a lit match.

When he did watercolors, he used 'Seltz' brand mineral water. Designs he did not care for were dropped on the floor, and after a while his place in the café resembled a pigpen.

His sketches, drawings and caricatures were successful - they were much in demand for use by newspapers and magazines.

So it was perversely natural that he really wanted to be a painter. Like other artists in the group of Dômiers, he would go to the Louvre to copy the masters; although his choices there were a bit eccentric. He also took drawing courses at the Academy Colarossi and turned out a style far, far from the masters in the Louvre.

From 1908 to 1912 his designs were shown at the Fall Salon, and at salons in Berlin and Budapest. Berthe Weill accepted some of his drawings for an exposition in January 1910; but she had to put them in a corner of their own, because they could be shocking to ordinary viewers of the day.

Pascin drew from the life around him. In the Dôme, in the restaurants of Montparnasse, in the brothels; he made sketches of his friends, their models, his models, girlfriends, their girlfriends, his friends' wives; of costume balls, even of Cinderella. After the Dôme, after the party, throughout the night he would often draw on copper with a ivory pen, in effect doing engravings by drawing 'blind.' He was engraving the night.

Amid the noise, the smoke, shouted orders, the multilingual conversations, he would draw. It was said he could draw so fast, that he would have a portrait of a man jumping out a window finished before the subject hit the pavement four floors below.

During the forty-five years between the dates of his birth and death, Pascin managed to either live in or visit Bucharest, Vienna, Munich, Spain, Cologne, Berlin, Newphoto: academie grande chaumiere York, London, South Carolina, Florida, Cuba, Tunisia, Cairo and Düsseldorf, not to mention holidays with the Dômiers on the Côte d'Azur. Pascin made his last visit to Bulgaria in 1913.

The nearby academy for painters and sculptors, nearly unchanged.

Not all of the Dômiers were men. Hermine David, who learned to paint miniatures, engraving and design, began studies at the Beaux-Arts in 1902, which lasted only a few months before she left for the Académie Julian. Starting in 1905, she exhibited regularly at the Salon des Femmes, where it was said she had a 'future'.

This future began in 1907 when Pascin, wearing a kimono at Henri Bing's apartment, opened the door to Hermine and immediately figured out with scissors how to unravel the rock-solid corset Madame David had installed on her daughter. Pascin prudently allowed the quite respectable Rudolf Levy inform Madam David of the fait accompli.

Women were tolerated with no great politesse by the Dômiers; they were usually models or transitory girlfriends, and it took a while for Hermine to be accepted there. It was said she had a side to her considered to be 'a bit childish and hysterical' - characteristics foreign to the Dômiers of course.

She also drew these surroundings incessantly and became respected for her talents and for her patience with whole evenings when only German was spoken. When Pascin quit the Hôtel des Ecoles and took up a nomadic life in Paris between Montmartre and Montparnasse, he would be often rejoined by Hermine - who never entirely left her mother either.

One of the three French students of Matisse, Pierre Dubreuil, a friend of Per Krohg and Nils Dardel - Dômiers all - were more comfortable with the Germans than the Americans. They were part of Pascin's crowd, even though he mocked them for their attachment to Matisse.

Pierre Dubreuil fell in love with Elvire Ventura who lived in the Rue Delambre, whose father was a sculptor and assistant of Rodin's. In 1910 at the age of 14, Elvire had posed for Pascin, at his atelier at 8. Rue de la Grande Chaumière.

Elvire was a girlfriend of Cécile Vidil, who everybody called Lucy. Lucy's mother had taken her out of school in 1905, also at the age of 14, to become an apprentice. She didn't care for this and ran away from Issy to Paris - no major distance - and later had a bad turn when her 'rich' Brazilian boyfriend failed to turn up for a meeting with her parents.

She then followed Elvire's advice to become a model in the academies of Montparnasse and in 1910 she was working at Matisse's, where she met Per Krohg. 'Amour' exploded - 'love at first sight' - between them at the Bal Bullier in early 1911, although she had posed for Pascin in Montmartre in 1909 and 1910 while he was still attached to Hermine.

After passing the War years in North America, Pascin and Hermine returned to Paris at the end of October 1921. On going back to the Rue Joseph-Bara to recuperate drawings left in a cave there, Pascin met Lucy again and they took a walk in the nearby Luxembourg gardens.

The two couples and Guy, the Krohg's son, spent a lot of time together before going different ways for the summer - the Krohgs to Norway and Pascin and Hermine to Tunisia.

In the fall, Hermine broke off with Pascin and moved to the Hôtel d'Odessa while Pascin foundphoto: pascin memorial, dome an atelier in Montmartre. Pascin schemed at a reunion with Lucy, and if she did figure increasingly in his designs and etchings, she refused to quit Per and Guy. Pascin was obsessed with her.

In September 1922 Nils Dardel and Thora ran into Pascin by chance on a Montmartre corner, and they became friends. Montmartre was not what it had been before the war, but Braque, Gris, Utrillo and Suzanne Valadon lived there, and Picasso returned from Montparnasse.

Le Dôme's modest memorial for Jules Pascin.

Pascin had a huge but practically empty atelier on the top floor of the middle-class building at 36. Boulevard de Clichy. Pascin held monster parties in it, amid the smells of the boulevard below - waffles, crêpes, candy floss, cooking gas, lions in cages at the nearby Médrano circus, mixed with firecrackers and poorly cooked sauerkraut served as the atelier's buffet.

Pascin continued to write invitations to Lucy. Per meanwhile found a new girlfriend in Treize, who he met at Le Jockey where she went nightly with Kiki. Per refused to let Guy leave with Lucy for Pascin and his 'deregulated' life, and Lucy insisted on maintaining a semblance of family life by living near her son.

In fact, she passed the days with Pascin and then returned home to have dinner and feed Guy. Afterwards she went out with Pascin's crowd in the evening. Pascin was not happy with this arrangement, and drank more and more.

During a dinner in 1925 at Chez Alfredo near Pigalle, the American engraver and poet, Herbert Lespinasse, invited a whole crowd down his 'villa' at Saint Tropez. Pascin, who never missed a party or a trip that promised to be one, accepted. Nils Dardel and Pascin were unable to wake Thora and they left by train without her.

A day later and furious, Thora rounded up the Swedish painter Zuhr and his wife and they took the express to Toulon. Arriving at Saint Tropez after dark, a café waiter indicated the way to the Dardel 'villa,' and after much stumbling around in the dark, they arrived to find the ladies of the Chez Alfredo party in men's pajamas, and the 'villa' not much more than a simple cabin.

Lespinasse woke the party in the mornings with gunshots, and assigned everybody their tasks. Nils and Pascin were charged with carrying water and several of the ladies gathered firewood. While Rolla, Lespinasse's model, talked 'back to nature,' she applied her elaborate makeup using a pocket mirror, the only one there.

They went for boat rides, they went swimming, and after a few days Madame Zuhr and the Dardels went to Marseille, on account of Pascin's greco-turk-roman cooking.

Pascin, of course followed, but not for the food; he and Kisling, under the protection of a local brothel-owning art lover, undertook an intensive tour of the local color in the Vieux Port, where they painted and did other amusing things.

By the time Pascin was 40 - on Tuesday, 31. March 1925 - he was pretty famous. His works were sold in Pierre Loeb's gallery in the Rue Bonaparte, along with the works of Léger, Miro, Soutine, Utrillo and Picasso; and Lucy was selling more of them in the Bernheim-Jeune gallery.

The birthday party was held at Dagorno's, a well-known steak-house near the old slaughter-houses out at La Villette. A small group of loud friends gave him a golden replica of his habitual bowler hat.

When Pascin was invited to dinner, he arrived with all the bottles of red he could carry. When he invited everybody, as he did often - to Alfredo's - Afredo feared for his premises. In summers, they would go in great groups to picnic beside the Marne; with the lunches lasting all afternoon.

Pascin became an American citizen in 1927; he was sponsored by Alfred Stieglitz and Maurice Sterne. Pascin arrived in New York in August, and Lucy followed in January, but did not feel at ease there and returned to Paris after a few weeks.

Back in Paris, Pascin continued to make his 'bombes' - wild parties - with his band from around the Boulevard de Clichy; but more than ever he was despondent over his inability to achieve personal success with his painting.

He thought maybe he should quit it altogether, and content himself to hang out, go on trips, and modestly get by with the sale of his drawings.

On Thursday, 5. June 1930, Lucy, who had been looking for Pascin for days, got an apprentice locksmith to open the door of his live-in atelier, and Pascin was found dead and had been dead for several days.

He had written "Adieu Lucy" on a wall in blood from a pricked finger. After failing to bleed to death, he had hung himself from a door handle.

Pascin's funeral was on Saturday, 7. June. All the galleries in Paris closed for the day. Thousands, including waiters and barmen, musicians, the artists of Montmartre and Montparnasse and all of their models, everybody Pascin knew, all dressed in black, followed the coffin the five kilometres to the cemetery at Saint-Ouen under a blazing sun.

Lucy and her brother were last in line, on foot, behind Hermine David and a rabbi in a car. Abruptly, Per left the side of Treize and gesturing Lucy's brother aside, took the arm of Lucy and went the rest of way with her.

A Final Word About Pascin

Pascin lived in Paris on and off for 25 years from just after the turn of the century until 1930. Paris was the subject of his drawings, paintings and engravings, and they also constitute a sort of illustrated autobiography.

In an exhibition a few years ago, a hundred or so of his engravings were on display. If he was drawing non-stop from his arrival in the Dôme in 1905 and he was as fast as he probably was, then his creative production from that date could have easily amounted to 25,000 works.

He was an artist personally as well as professionally. But as a painter, he was not up to his own - perhaps too high - standards, and considered himself a failure.

As a person who 'lived' in Paris, even in those days when the living was particularly vivid, Pascin also set a standard - which was matched by a few but exceeded by none.

If Montparnasse is synonymous with the 'Années Folles' - the Crazy Years - then Pascin was 'Monsieur Montparnasse.' This born Bulgarian, was an artist who was a Parisian; one with an American passport. So right, so Paris. photo: cafe la coupole

The Coupole opened in 1927 with one of the biggest parties ever.

You probably don't remember that you might have already heard of Pascin. In 'A Moveable Feast' Ernest Hemingway wrote a chapter titled, 'With Pascin At the Dôme.'

One evening, after Hemingway doesn't like the look of characters he sees in the Select and the Rotonde, Pascin waves him to his table at the Dôme, where he is sitting after a 'hard days' work' with two models who are sisters.

The way Hemingway has written it, it sounds like Pascin, who asks the writer, "You have to go?"

"Have to and want to."

"Go on, then," Pascin said. "And don't fall in love with typewriting paper."

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