In recent days I have taken an interest in ravens, crows, and eagles and their symbolism, the reason for which I will explain another time. Until then, don’t be surprised if you see a lot of bird imagery popping up here on Museworthy Since I am in this fascination with intelligent birds phase, I shall use this opportunity to post a Picasso painting that I have long admired but not yet shared on the blog. One of the many stunners he created during his famous “Blue Period”, this is Woman With a Crow from 1904. I love this painting. And I love Picasso when he’s like this:
Charming, expressive, and poetic, this piece shows off not only Picasso’s extraordinary talents as a Modernist painter, but his uncanny ability to choose wonderful subjects for his work. And who are the subjects? Well, the woman was Margot and her avian companion was her pet crow. Who was Margot? She was the daughter of Frédéric Gérard. And who was Frédéric Gérard? He was the manager of Le Lapin Agile, the legendary Montmartre cabaret and bohemian watering hole that was wildly popular among artists and writers in Paris during the turn-of-the-century. For music, singing, drinking, and lively discussion, Le Lapin Agile was THE place to be, and I don’t even want to think about how much absinthe was consumed there!
Le Lapin Agile got its name in 1872 when the artist Andre Gill painted a new sign for the joint. It showed a rabbit jumping out of a saucepan, hence the name Le Lapin Agile, which means “The Nimble Rabbit” or “The Agile Rabbit”. But Le Lapin Agile almost didn’t survive to see the 20th century. The place was seedy and dangerous for many years, attracting hashish smokers and rough patrons who engaged in drunken bar fights and even shootings. But as luck would have it, the place fell into the hands of Frédéric Gérard, a musician and eccentric, colorful fellow, who turned it around and saved it from closure.
Frédéric Gérard, known simply as “Frédé”, happily accepted artwork as payment for bar tabs. And when your regular clientele includes such figures as Picasso, Modigliani, Utrillo, and Derain, that’s a pretty good deal for the house. Woman With a Crow was one of Picasso’s offerings but certainly not his most famous contribution to the Lapin Agile art collection. That honor belongs to his marvelous work At the Lapin Agile which is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum. That’s Picasso himself as the harlequin, Frédé playing his guitar in the background, and Germaine Pichot is the female figure. She is the woman who drove Picasso’s best friend to suicide. This is a great painting, and it hung on the wall at Le Lapin Agile until 1912 when Frédé sold it for a mere $20. Yes folks, a great painting can come about even when an artist is settling a bar bill as Picasso likely was in this case. And 70 years later it fetched $40 million at auction at Sotheby’s. Incredible.
And for those of you who might be interested, check out this article for a hilarious story about Le Lapin Agile that involves an art hoax and a donkey named Lolo. Yes, really. A donkey.