Kissing Crows and Nimble Rabbits

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.

hb_1992.391metmuseum.org

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. :lol:

14 thoughts on “Kissing Crows and Nimble Rabbits

  1. Don’t skip that link about Lolo the donkey, readers!

    Thanks for a great art history post, Claudia.

    I haven’t read or seen it, but Steve Martin wrote a play about a meeting between Picasso and Einstein, set in the Lapin Agile.

    • artmodel says:

      Fred,

      Isn’t that Lolo story great? I love it! :lol:

      Yes, I learned of the Steve Martin play while I was doing searches for this post. It sounds like an interesting premise.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  2. Rene says:

    Hi Muse… really enjoying your blog from across the ocean in Southwest England xx

  3. Bill says:

    Maybe we can tie a few Museworthy entries together here.

    You’re talking about crows — and you previously discussed Sylvia Plath (and her husband, Ted Hughes) as well as the play War Horse. Well:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturenews/9334585/War-Horse-puppeteers-breathe-life-into-Ted-Hughes-Crow.html

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      Thank you for the link to that article! Great stuff. Those crows are amazing. And I am beyond impressed that you remembered topics I’ve blogged about in the past. You are a true blue Museworthy regular!

      Claudia

  4. cauartprof says:

    Claudia, Wonderful post! Years ago I fell in love with a different version of Woman With A Crow that hangs in the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio. As an undergrad at Miami, Ohio we would make trips to see regional museums and that particular trip is still vivid because of that picture. Thanks for the informative post and for bringing back great memories. Best, Chris

    • artmodel says:

      Chris,

      I’m so glad this post brought back great remembrances for you! I relate to your comments about how one powerful work of art can have a lasting effect and live in one’s memory forever.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  5. Great essay, Claudia! I’m looking forward to finding more birds here, especially ravens (long time favorite of mine)! & if you find any yatagarasu ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/22796639@N05/6331951785/ )… :-)

  6. Jennifer says:

    If I’ve read your posts on my phone, I have to wait till I log on to a computer to see the images – lovely Picasso paintings and really enjoyed the story of Le Lapin Agile. The sort of bar we’d all love to find :) Although not when it turns out as badly as for Picasso’s friend …

    • artmodel says:

      Jennifer,

      This post was conceived mainly to showcase Woman With a Crow, but I loved reading about the colorful history of Le Lapin Agile and how it related to Picasso and other artists. So I decided to include the Lapin Agile more extensively as a topic.

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      Claudia

  7. Paul Darst says:

    I had not been to your blog for a while. I am glad you are still at it — both for the art, much of which I have not seen before, and for the personal side.
    I, too, like that Picasso. I prefer his figurative paintings.

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