One café-concert after another opened in fin-de-siècle Paris. They were large establishments at which all levels of Parisian society came to drink, smoke, socialise, and enjoy light-hearted songs and other entertainment.
For printmakers, the café-concert was not only a meeting place, but a source of modern and popular subject matter. They immortalised artistes in their prints and posters, depicting their song lyrics in sheet music illustrations which contributed to the star status of these performers.
The café-concert offered a varied repertoire at a low price, making it a venue accessible to a wide audience. The focus was on comical, sentimental, or bawdy songs, for which printmakers illustrated the sheet music. The spectacle also consisted of gaudily costumed dancers, acrobats, and variety acts such as boxing kangaroos.
The café-concert was so popular that Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Henri-Gabriel Ibels devoted a whole print series to it for the publisher André Marty.
The caricature portraits they made of the artistes and of members of the audience slumped in their seats perfectly evoke the easy-going atmosphere of these venues.
Although the ones in central Paris were a little more salubrious than their counterparts in Montmartre, differences of social class were not important at the café-concert.
Bourgeois, worker, prostitute, and bohemian sat side-by-side to drink the ‘watery foam from the beer mugs,’ as the introduction to the print series put it.
Georges Montorgueil, ‘Le Café Concert’, in Georges d’Esparbes et al., Les Demi Cabots. Le Café-Concert, Le Cirque, Les Forains, Paris 1896
Elisabeth Pillet, ‘Cafés-concerts et cabarets’, Romantisme (1992), nr. 75, pp. 43-50
Phillip Dennis Cate et al., The Spirit of Montmartre. Cabarets, Humor and the Avant-Garde, 1875-1905, New Brunswick 1996