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"The spirit of Montmartre Cabarets, humour and the avant-garde, 1875-1905 "
2000-07-14 until 2000-09-24
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, , NL

Anyone visiting Amsterdam this summer should make a point of seeing the special exhibition devoted to Montmartre in the new wing of the Van Gogh Museum (14 July through 24 September). By means of more than 350 works, including prints, drawings, illustrated newspapers, theatre programmes, invitations and posters, all from the collection of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick (New Jersey), a lively image is presented of the avant-garde groups that manifested themselves in this Parisian district from 1875 to 1905.

Artists, writers, musicians and actors met and collaborated on newspapers, books, theatrical and musical productions. They experimented with nontraditional media and created work in which the idea was often more important than the way it had been given shape. Through their experiments with conceptual art, the Montmartre avant-garde laid the foundation for such twentieth-century movements as Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus and Performance Art. Humour, satire and parody were important means to challenge the existing political and artistic order.

The visual arts in particular evince great innovation. For example, Paul Bilhaud exhibited the first documented monochrome painting in 1882. Emile Cohl's photographs may be considered the precursors of later Surrealist photography. And, in 1887 the proto-performance artist Sapeck (Eugène Bataille) published a pipe-smoking Mona Lisa in Le Rire, long before Marcel Duchamp added a moustache to this exalted icon in the Louvre in 1919.

Attention is devoted to the activities of various avant-garde groups, including Les Hydropathes (1878-1881) and Les Incohérents (1882-1896). Founded in 1878 by Emile Goudeau, the Hydropathes included a varied company of writers, artists and performers. Every Wednesday and Saturday they would gather in a café in the Quartier Latin to discuss and spontaneously recite their work. The Arts Incohérents was the bizarre title of the first of a series of exhibitions organised by the young writer Jules Lévy from October 1882. The exhibitions were characterised by submissions from artists who ridiculed the established order by using odd materials: for example, there were sculptures made of bread, cheese, or other everyday objects. The avant-garde groups are represented in this exhibition with documents such as invitations and catalogues.

A central aspect of this exhibition is the development of the Montmartre cabaret, with Le Chat Noir (1881-1897) and Les Quat'z'Arts (1893-1910) as the most famous examples. It was the great merit of Rodolphe Salis, the founder of the Chat Noir cabaret, to attract the Paris artistic and literary elite by means of a pioneering programme (for the first time, music and song were combined with the spoken repertoire and poetry) and extravagant advertising. Together with the chief editor Emile Goudeau, he established the newspaper of the same name, to which various artists contributed. In addition to puppet shows, the shadow plays in particular assumed a prominent place within the programme. In Les Quat'z'Arts a unique form of collaboration evolved called Le Mur, a ‘wall newspaper' with satires and parodies of contemporary art, literature and politics. It also contained puns, rebuses, poems, short stories, caricatures, cartoons, satirical commentaries, made-up news reports, advertisements and correspondence. A reconstruction of this remarkable combination will be part of the exhibition.

Complementing this exhibition are paintings and works on paper by Vincent van Gogh and his Parisian contemporaries, which vividly convey Montmartre's special atmosphere, with her windmills, vegetable gardens and nightlife. Van Gogh worked in Paris from March 1886 to February 1888, and became acquainted with several artists and modern art forms that were to have an enormous influence on his development.

Atmospheric installation

The humorous, festive character of the exhibition calls for a playful installation redolent of the spirit of Montmartre and breathing the atmosphere of 19th-century cafés. There is also a short film of a shadow play accompanied by music of the period. Studio Roozen and Waac's Design designed the installation.


The Education Department is preparing a special Montmartre Newspaper with an introduction to the exhibition and the spirit of the time, a cryptogram and numerous images. It is intended for young and old, and is available free of charge at the entrance of the exhibition.

Works on paper from the museum's collection

In keeping with The spirit of Montmartre, an exhibition of works on paper from the museum's own collection relating to the subject of Montmartre has been mounted in the print room of the Rietveld building. This presentation will be on view from 7 July through 1 October 2000.


In conjunction with the exhibition, the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick (New Jersey) has published a catalogue with five essays, The Spirit of Montmartre, Phillip Dennis Cate and Mary Shaw, 249 pages, ISBN 0-8135-2324-9, available only in English, price ƒ 49,50 (Paperback).

For more information and visual material, please contact the Press Office of the Van Gogh Museum: (31) 20-570 52 91.

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