Le Chat Noir or The Black Cat of Victorian Times

Louis Rodolphe Salis, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Le Chat Noir or The Black Cat was established by an unsuccessful painter named Louis Rodolphe Salis. Salis’s father was a wine merchant in Chatellerault and wanted his son to be a tradesman. As Salis was unsuccessful in his chosen career, he began thinking about the maxims of his father and decided he needed to combine art and alcoholic beverages, thereby creating the idea of the modern cabaret. Salis’s idea was for patrons to sit at tables amid clouds of tobacco smoke, drink mugs of Bavarian beer, and enjoy a variety of stage acts, introduced by a master of ceremonies who interacted with the audience.

Le Chat Noir supposedly acquired its name in one of two ways. One claim was that its name came from the discovery of a dead rat under a divan. The second claim is that it was named after a picture which appeared in one of the exhibitions in Paris, which was bought or presented to the inn by the artist and described in the following way: “A black cat is represented standing on the shoulder of a woman, whose white skin and corsage are liberally displayed.” Continue reading

Parc-aux-Cerfs and Tales of Louis XV’s Harem

Parc-aux-Cerfs and Tales of Louis XV's Harem: Madame de Pompadour
Madame de Pompadour, by François Boucher, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Fifteen-year-old King Louis XV married a pious woman by the name of Marie Leszczyńska in September 1725. She was the daughter of the deposed King of Poland and 21 at the time. After their marriage, similar to most French kings, Louis XV took several mistresses. Among the most famous of all his mistresses, was his maîtresse-en-titre (chief mistress) named Madame de Pompadour. She was a beautiful, educated, and intelligent woman whom he met at a masked ball in February 1745.

Some years later, the name Parc-aux-Cerfs, which literally means stag park, began to be whispered at Louis XV’s court. Parc-aux-Cerfs, also known as the King’s Birdcage, was alleged to be where the King’s “harem” lived. Parc-aux-Cerfs was in a quarter of Versailles called Parc-aux-Cerfs, and it also happened to be the same neighborhood where Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s favorite, settled after her physical relationship with him ended in 1752. Continue reading

Places Mentioned in “Marie Antoinette’s Confidante” (Part 2)

Sights in Paris: Sites I Visited in Paris
Sites I Visited in Paris, Author’s Collection

As mentioned in my previous post, the relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe was a fascinating one. To understand the environment that these women lived in I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the places that were an important part of their lives and places that I talked about in “Marie Antoinette’s Confidante.” Part two looks at places within Paris and includes the Palace of Tuileries, the Duke of Orléans’s Palais-Royal, the Hôtel de Toulouse, and the remnants of the infamous Bastille and La Force prison.

To give you an idea of how close these sites are to one another, I have included a map. Please note that the Palace of Tuileries is about 2.3 kilometers or 1.5 miles from the Bastille. Continue reading

Places Mentioned in “Marie Antoinette’s Confidante” (Part 1)

Map of Locations in "Marie Antoinette's Confidante," Author's Collection
Map of Locations, Author’s Collection

The story and relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe is a fascinating one. As both women were well-to-do, they traveled much more extensively than an ordinary person of the 1700s. To write Marie Antoinette’s Confidante, I wanted to see the places frequented by Marie Antoinette and the Princesse and this took me to France. Among some of the interesting places that I traveled to are Passy, Versailles, Rambouillet, Fontainebleau, and Château de la Muette. To help you gain a better understanding of these sites mentioned, I have written a brief paragraph describing each. To give you an idea of the distance between the various locations, please note that from Rambouillet to Fontainebleau is approximately 80 kilometers or 50 miles. Continue reading

History of Princesse de Lamballe’s Passy Home

Benjamin Franklin, Author's Collection
Benjamin Franklin, Author’s Collection

In the mid 1770s, Passy was about three miles outside Paris. It drew wealthy people, because of its bucolic setting. Located on the hillside of the Seine’s right bank, Passy also had a renowned mineral spring owned by Passy’s first mayor, Louis-Guillaume Le Veillard. The spring purportedly had healing waters described as “copious blue.” Moreover, its location made Passy the perfect distance between Versailles and Paris. That was part of the reason that the United States’ first Ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, called it home for the nine years—1776-1785, and why the Princesse de Lamballe purchased a home in Passy in February of 1783. Continue reading

France’s Perfume Center: The History of Grasse or the Scented Slut

Catherine de' Medici, Painting Attributed to François Clouet, c. 1555, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Catherine de’ Medici, Painting Attributed to François Clouet, c. 1555, Courtesy of Wikipedia

France is famous for its perfume. One area in France that became a prospering perfume area was picturesque Grasse. This commune was located in the Alpes-Maritimes department on the French Riviera. However, before Grasse perfume became famous, Grasse was famous for its leather and tanneries. Leather gloves produced there had bad odors, so a tanner named Galimard came up with the idea to scent them. To create scented gloves, people in the countryside began to grow flowers, which was aided by the area’s microclimate and the fact the Moors brought jasmine into the area.

The woman who made scented gloves popular was Catherine de’ Medici. She loved them so much, she helped spread the idea of fragrant gloves worldwide. It also resulted in some of France’s most eminent bishops referring to the area as “Gueuse Parfumée” or the “scented slut.” Eventually, high taxes on leather and competition from Nice resulted in a reduced demand for gloves, and the fragrance for the gloves ceased.

This was a problem, because flowers remained available in vast quantities. To use the flowers, a perfumery called Perfumerie Galimard was established by Jean de Galimard, Lord of Seranon in 1747. It is the world’s third oldest perfumery and, at the time, provided Louis XV’s Royal Court with ointments, pomades, and perfumes.

Continue reading

Places of the French Revolution: Place Louis XV

Statue of Louis XV, Public Domain
Inauguration of the Statue of Louis XV, Public Domain

Among the places of the French Revolution was the Place Louis XV (later called the Place de la Concorde). It was located between the Palais des Tuileries and the Champs Élysées. The square, which was originally a spot where market-gardeners grew cabbage and lettuce, was established and named in honor of King Louis XV. Ange-Jacques Gabriel designed the square and laid it out in 1755. The center piece was a statue commissioned by the city of Paris in 1748, sculpted by Edmé Bouchardon, and completed by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle after Bouchardon’s death. It was an equestrian statue of King Louis XV: “The king, crowned with laurels and arrayed in Roman costume, sat a top a prancing charger of bronze.”  Continue reading

Places of the French Revolution: Palais-Royal

Palais-Royal
Palais-Royal in 1641, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Palais-Royal was original known as the Palais-Cardinal. It was the personal residence of Armand Jean du Plessis, known as Cardinal Richelieu. Designs were made by his architect — Jacques Lemercier — in 1629 and construction began in 1633. It took six years of hammering and pounding to complete and was not finished until 1639. By that point, it had assumed the form of a square with a large garden in the center. Continue reading

Places of the French Revolution: Hôtel de Ville

Statue of Étienne Marcel by Antonin Idrac Next to the Hôtel de Ville, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Statue of Étienne Marcel by Antonin Idrac Next to the Hôtel de Ville, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Administration for the city of Paris has been located in the same spot — the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, formerly called the Place de Grève — since July of 1357. At that time, Paris’s provost of merchants (essentially mayor), Étienne Marcel, bought the maison aux piliers (House of Pillars) in the name of the city. This was also the spot that merged with the Place de Grève (“Square of the Strand”) and the spot where public executions were conducted since its inception.

Although almost always in need of repairs, the House of Pillars served Paris’s needs until the 1530s. At that time, Paris had become the largest and grandest city in Europe, and because of its grand reputation, King Francis I decided in 1533 to build a city hall he thought worthy of Paris. To accomplish his vision, Francis I appointed two architects, Italian Dominique de Cortone and Frenchman Pierre Chambiges. Continue reading

Schönbrunn Palace, Marie Antoinette’s Childhood Summer Home

Schöbrunn Palace
Schöbrunn Palace by Bernardo Bellotto in 1758, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Antoine (later Marie Antoinette) was the fifteenth and second to last child of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and his wife, Maria Theresa, who ruled jointly with her husband. Antoine was born on 2 November 1755 in an armchair in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. However, while the Hofburg Palace may have been where Antoine was born, it did not mean it was the place where she spent most of her time as a child. Continue reading