Le Lapin Agile

Joachim-Raphaël Boronali — Coucher de soleil sur l'Adriatique (Sunset on the Adriatic)
Joachim-Raphael BoronaliSunset on the Adriatic [Coucher de soleil sur l'Adriatique]

The painting on the left induced some hurly-burly when it was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in 1910. The canvas was signed by a person of obscure repute named Joachim-Raphael Boronali, who had prepared the picture's appearance by drafting a manifesto about a new, dissident futurist school, Excessivism.

ImageMany specialized critics who saw the painting in the show found the work 'very interesting'. It was sold twenty Golden Louis (400 French francs, about 1,800 current dollars). And yet, its author, who appears in the adjacent photo with his best friend, was not a painter at all.

There is a famous cabaret at 22 Rue des Saules in Montmartre, named Le Lapin Agile, where, in the 1900s-1910s, unknown people called Picasso, Utrillo, Modigliani, Braque, Derain, Dorgelès, Apollinaire or Max Jacob would meet, talk, joke, sing and drink together. The owner of the place was Frédéric Gérard, Le Père Frédé as everyone called him, who is the bearded man who appears in the photo above.

ImageThe cabaret had existed since 1860. It was originally called Le Cabaret des AssassinsCabaret of Murderers — until Andre Gill, a caricaturist, painted in 1875 the sign that was to suggest its permanent name: the picture of a humanized rabbit with a top-hat, who jumps out of a saucepan with a bottle of wine in his hand.

Residents soon called their neighbourhood night-club Le Lapin à GillGill's rabbit — a name that naturally evolved into Le Lapin AgileThe Agile Rabbit.

Cora VaucaireFrédé
Pablo Picasso - Au Lapin Agile
Pablo PicassoAt the Lapin Agile
[Au Lapin Agile] 1905.
Oil on Canvas, 99 cm × 100 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New-York.

The cabaret still exists nowadays. It is still full of customers who come and listen to French songs dating back as far as the fifteenth century.

Frédéric Gérard— aka Frédé — the owner of the place shown with his donkey on the photo above, was a character. Songs have been written about him, and he is the man playing the guitar in the background, in the adjacent painting by .

In this painting, Picasso portrayed himself dressed as a Harlequin, accompanied by his model Germaine Pichot. According to the tale, Picasso once paid a lunch with this painting, that Frédé sold in 1912 for the equivalent of 20 dollars. In 1989, it was auctioned at Sotheby's for 41 million dollars.

Anyway, how about 'Joachim-Raphael Boronali'? Who hid under the nickname? You know it was not Picasso or any of the abovementioned artists since I wrote that the painter was portrayed in the photo displaying Frédé with his donkey. Yet the painter was not Frédé but... Lolo, the donkey!

The painting was a hoax by the writer Roland Dorgelès and a few friends, to make fun of art critics. They tied a brush to the tail of Lolo, which daubed a canvas with several colours in front of witnesses, official ones included. They coined the nickname Boronali because it is an anagram for Aliboron, as Jean de la Fontaine would call the donkey in his fables.

Boronali in the process of creating his masterpiece
The painting is now permanently exhibited in a museum in Milly-La-Forêt, near Paris.

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