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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Picasso Ate Here...and Here

Cafe Du Dome, ca. 1900, unknown artist. 108 Boulevard Montparnasse, Paris               
Cafe Le Dome today.
In searching for interesting artist to bring to light, sometimes I accidentally come upon far more interesting topics than my initial search. In exploring the life of the turn-of-the-(20th) century Lebonese artist, Youssef Howayek I came upon the mention of Cafe Le Dome. Old Youssef turned out to be of little interest to me or (likely) anyone else. But Cafe Le Dome, where he hung out with the likes of Gibran Khalil Gibran, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso, now that intrigued me. Inasmuch as I've previously written about other artists' hangouts such as the Impressionist's Cafe Guerbois (Paris), Picasso's el Quartre Gats in Barcelona, and the Cafe Michelangelo of the Macchiaioli in Florence, I decided, why not add to that list?
The Cafe De Da Rotonde Picasso knew sometime before WW I.
Cafe De La Rotonde today.
Here's where it gets tricky, however. I began finding references to Cafe de la Rotonde. I figured, well, Rotonde means Dome in French (not exactly, but close), it was likely just a different calling. I began collecting photos and other interesting tidbits under both names, only to realize an hour or so later when I saw Cafe Le Dome referred to as a competitor of Cafe de la Rontonde, that what I was dealing with was, in fact, two different restaurants. Indeed, they were (and are today) competitors in that they are directly across the Boulevard Montparnasse from one another. And, it would seem, Picasso and other artists of the early 20th century were about equally fond of both. To add complexity to complications, it turns out there were two or three other colorful French bistros clustered in the same area sharing virtually the same clientele.
Modigliani, Picasso, and Andre Salmon at Cafe De La Rotonde, 1916.
And OH what a clientele it was! The list of artists, writers, intellectuals, and other famous, or not-yet-famous personages from this era is as long as my arm, and those are just the ones I've heard of. Not to overwhelm you, but they included our virtually unknown Lebonese friend, Youssef, as well as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Max Ernst, Paul Gauguin, Ernest Hemingway, Gibran Khalil Gibran, Wassily Kandinsky, Sinclair Lewis, Henry Miller, Amedeo Modigliani (above), Pablo Picasso (above), Man Ray, Chaim Soutine, Andre Salmon (above), Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini, Jean-Paul Sartre, Somerset Maugham, Jean Cocteau, and Diego Rivera with Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky thrown in to add a little pre-revolutionary Russian flavor to the mix.
Intellectuals at the Cafe De La Rotonde, 1925, Tullio Garbari
Some likely preferred one eatery over another, and I wouldn't contend that they all ate together every night. but it is likely they all at least knew one another, influenced one another, and in some cases, were quite good friends. Picasso, who had his studio nearby, painted some friends dining at De La Rotonde (below), as did Tullio Garbari, with his Intellectuals De La Rotonde Cafe (above), from 1925 (now estimated to be worth ten-million dollars). Writers among the group wrote about what went on in both establishments. Others simply got drunk there, even starting the occassional, stereotypical, barroom fight as depicted by Japanese artist, Tsuguharu Foujita, in his 1925 etching, A la Rotonde.
At the Cafe De La Rotonde or L'Hippodrome, 1901, Pablo Picasso
Le Dome was the first cafe in the arty Montparnasse neighborhood, opening in 1898. In Picasso's time a plate of mashed potatoes and a sausage at Le Dome cost the present day equivalent of a dollar. Even at that, many of the restaurant's artist clientele were so impoverished they paid for their meals in drawings, which, in later years, turned out to be quite a bonanza for the proprietors. Cafe de la Rotonde was a latecomer, founded by a benovolent restauranteur named Victor Libion. Very often he would allow artists to loiter for hours nursing a ten centime cup of coffee while pretending not to notice as the hungry painters broke off the ends of his breadsticks to nibble on. On his walls too were drawings by artists who couldn't afford to pay.

Picasso at De La Rotonde, ca. 1915, with his mistress at the time, Paquerette.
Today, both restaurants are still in business at their same locations. De La Rotonde was rennovated after the war in 1958 so it is considerably more "upscale" today, losing much of the noisy bohemian charm that Picasso knew and loved. The food and service at De La Rotonde is said to be somewhat better (or at least more consistent) than that of it's competitor across the boulevard. Cafe Le Dome is today, as it was a hundred years ago, pretty much a seafood place with diners advised to "close their eyes" when the bill arrives. In that I'm no great seafood lover, I'd probably have to do so much sooner.

Le Dome seafood platter. The cost? If you have to ask, you can't afford it
(roughly 200 Euros or $268).


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