I was looking for an impression of extreme simplicity, which allied itself harmoniously with the lines of my slim body and my small head...I wanted above all to appear highly distinguished, so that I could risk anything, in a repertoire that I had decided would be a ribald one.... To assemble an exhibition of humorous sketches in song, depicting all the indecencies, all the excesses, all the vices of my “contemporaries,” and to enable them to laugh at themselves...that was to be my innovation, my big idea.
— Yvette Guilbert
Yvette Guilbert (1867–1944) debuted on stage in 1887 as an actress in a traditional theater in Paris, but she soon moved to Montmartre's more avant-garde performance venues. With her unconventional singing voice, and an unfashionably tall and thin figure, Guilbert was an unlikely star of Montmartre's cafés-concerts. However, her success largely came from her ability to turn these unexceptional qualities into attributes. Rather than singing in a straighforward manner, Guilbert would half-sing, half-speak her ditties, earning her the title of the "diseuse fin de siècle" (end-of-the-century teller). Similarly, rather than concealing her lanky figure, Guilbert wore long black gloves and simple dresses with plunging necklines to exaggerate it, establishing herself as a stand-out from the more buxom performers.
By 1890, Guilbert was appearing regularly at the Moulin Rouge, where she perfected her personal style. Her distinctive performances earned Guilbert great fame and a cult status. She became a favorite subject for artists, including Lautrec, Jules Chéret, Ferdinand Bac, and Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, who captured the singer's sinuous lines in endless media. After making her mark at the Moulin Rouge, Guilbert went on to appear at other Montmartre establishments, including the Divan Japonais and the Ambassadeurs.
planning a visit |
the collection |
online tours |
programs & events
resources | support the gallery | gallery shop | NGAkids | search | help | contact us | site map | what's new | home