The Belle Époque Brought to Life

header pictureThe Belle Époque musical concert and opera programs and periodicals collection contains memorabilia from Belle Époque concerts that provide a glimpse into several of the most notable concert locations in Francophone Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Belle Époque was named in retrospect as it was considered to be the “golden age” that preceded World War I. This golden age was especially present in Paris where culture flourished in visual and performing arts. The relative wealth, optimism and peace of the French Third Republic permitted a population wide participation in the arts, with the upper class and bourgeoisie, or nouveau-riches, attending casinos and lavish music halls, and the less affluent frequenting cabarets, bistros, and music halls. The artists of the time were heavily influenced by this way of life and took to depicting it frequently. Artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Édouard Manet were known for frequently depicting scenes in several of the venues present in this collection.



Edouard Manet, Bar at the Folies Bergere, 1882.

One of Manet’s most famous works, Bar at the Folies Bergère, gives a true sense of the scene behind the playbill. In the painting, Manet depicts a young female bartender who is seemingly on display with the rest of the items for sale. In the mirror behind her, the chaos and liveliness of this venue is evident. This collection contains a 1897 playbill from the Folies Bergère advertising a performance from the famous Loïe Fuller, a dancer who is known as a pioneer of modern dance. She performed burlesque and vaudeville shows which were both staples of the era.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-1895.

The painting depicts the visual aspects of the venue and the playbill is evidence of what was actually happening on a specific day in history. While the playbill in this collection comes years after the Manet painting, the two items work together to give the Folies Bergère a lasting sense of life. In addition to Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec was known companions with Loïe Fuller and frequently painted scenes of cabaret life with paintings such as his 1892 masterpiece, At the Moulin Rouge. 



The most popular style of music during the Belle Époque was salon music, short pieces performed in salons that were not intended to be notably serious but rather display fleeting emotional expression. In this collection, there is an advertisement for the papers of one of the most famous composers of salon music, Franz List which includes a biography of another of the most notable composers of salon music, Frédéric Chopin. Their Debussymusic appears in several programs and is advertised as being performed by one of the most famous performers of salon music, Jacques Thibaud. In addition to this salon style, this era produced one of the most prominent composers of Impressionist music, Claude Debussy. Debussy, who appears several times in this collection.

The cultural trends at this time produced a Bohemian lifestyle, an unconventional lifestyle of adventurers involved primarily in musical, artistic and cultural pursuits. This lifestyle was reflected in many of the forms of entertainment of the era, particularly in performance dancing styles, such as burlesque and vaudeville. This free-spirited artistic lifestyle was concentrated in Montmartre. Home of the Sacré-Coeur, Montmartre was known for


housing artists during the Belle Époque such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Salvador Dali, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro and Vincent van Gogh, among many others. It was also the home of many of the famous concert venues and cabarets of the era, most notably the Moulin Rouge. It was the birthplace of the cancan and the pure embodiment of the Bohemian Belle Époque lifestyle. Several of the programs in this collection come from the seemingly endless collection of cabarets and performance halls in Montmartre and help give a sense of the artistic pulse that permeated the neighborhood.

These primary source documents prevent this unique era of history from becoming just an allusive time period taught in school. The programs allow the Belle Époque to become a vivid memory, despite the fact that it is not the memory of the modern people.  In combination with the lasting cultural elements of the time, these programs bring the Belle Époque to life in the modern era.


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