The unconventional nightclub singer Aristide Bruant was immensely popular among artists and writers in fin de siècle Paris.
Our image of him today is firmly shaped by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s iconic poster — the first time a performer had commissioned a poster containing his own image.
Bruant owed some of his growing success among the bourgeoisie to this distinctive design with the large hat, red scarf and haughty expression.
Bruant was known for his risqué chansons in artful street slang, in which he described the hard lives of prostitutes, thieves and other denizens of the Montmartre demi-monde.
He performed them first at Le Chat noir and later in his own nightclub, Le Mirliton.
Toulouse-Lautrec was one of the regulars and he depicted the club in his paintings and drawings. Le Mirliton was a literary and artistic hotbed, unlike the large café-concerts at which Bruant performed in the 1890s as his popularity grew even further.
Bridge between art and entertainment
Bruant presented himself as an outsider: he sympathised with street people, was the friend of bohemians and earned his living from the bourgeois audience he took to task in his chansons.
It was this versatility that brought him success among printmakers like Toulouse-Lautrec, who also wanted to build a bridge between working people and the bourgeoisie, between ‘low-brow’ entertainment and ‘high’ art.
Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie et al., Toulouse-Lautrec: Les estampes et les affiches de la Bibliothèque nationale, Paris 1992
Oscar Méténier, ‘Aristide Bruant’, La Plume (1 februari 1891), nr. 43, p. 39-53
Richard Thomson et al., Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, Washington 2005