Paris Cabaret du Néant
Glow in the Dark Poster
Bohemian Paris of To-Day was written by William Chambers Morrow and Édouard Cucuel and in it described their drinking exploits which occured during the Gay Nineties in Gay Paris.
They partook of two well-known Cabarets, Cabaret du Néant ("The Cabaret of Nothingness") and Cabaret de l'Enfer ("The Cabaret of the Inferno"), both in the Montmartre neighborhood.
"Death is the best invention ever by God. Since, we know we want to live, we play with it."
Approaching the Cabaret du Néant, the entrance was draped in black mourning crape trimmed in white, much the same type that hung outside the houses of the dead in Paris.
This is where a solitary pallbearer clothed in dramatic black cape pulled close and glazed top hat would lurk, waiting for unsuspecting victims.
Drawing apart the heavy funereal curtains, patrons were admitted into what looked to be a black hole. Once eyes adjusted to the darkness, it was apparent that the blackness was actually a room.
Upon entering the Cabaret du Néant, the following exclamation was heard by the visitors:
WELCOME, O WEARY WANDERER, TO THE REALM OF DEATH! ENTER! CHOOSE YOUR COFFIN, AND BE SEATED BESIDE IT!
Soon a man dressed as an undertaker barked out a greeting of 'Come in, coffin worm! A brother is dead.'
First stop: Salle d'Intoxication
He took the "guests" into the Salle d'Intoxication (meaning Room of Intoxication or Drinking Area), a room that was furnished with coffins balanced on bier trestles which were placed about the room to give the atmosphere one of controlled chaos.
Muted voices droned a low monotone: "Enter, mortals of this sinful world, enter into the mists and shadows of eternity. Select your biers, to the right, to the left; fit yourselves comfortably to them, and repose in the solemnity and tranquility of death; and may God have mercy on your souls!"
There were already a number of patrons having bellied up to coffins, enjoying tasty libations named after deadly diseases, all served by sullen monks and barking undertakers.
Three or four unlit candles were placed on each coffin.
Looking above, there hung a large candelabra called the Lampadaire funéraire and was intricately devised of three real human skulls of different sizes.
The first skull was a foetal skull connected to a small spine, which attached itself to a larger foetal skull. That skull sat on the end of a large femur bone, and in front of this bone were two crossed femur bones, giving the impression of a triple cross.
On the other end of the large femur bone is the third and final adult skull.
Visitors were told that all three skulls came from the same person at different ages.
Sprouting from the bottom of the adult skull were three adult skeleton arms, each ending with boney skeleton fingers that clutched funeral candles. Each arm was connected with an extra bone support.
The walls were decorated with skulls, bones, skeletons, (most likely pilfered from the Paris Catacombs) and hanging bodies and body parts, and pictures of La Madame Guillotine - all of it embellished with miscellaneous funeral accoutrements. The atmosphere was decidedly heavy with death.
Waiters were dressed head-to-toe in professional funeral garb and would lurk from coffin to coffin offering refreshments such as Sirops et Liqueurs, and burnt Madeira wine in keeping with the funereal atmosphere.
The undertaker droned on, "Bon soir, Macchabees! [This word is given in Paris by sailors to cadavers found floating in the river, today we call them floaters] Buvez les crachats d'asthmatiques, voila des sueurs froides d'agonisants. Prenez done des certificats de deces, seulement vingt sous. C'est pas cher et c'est artistique !"
Once orders had been placed, pallbearer garcon bellowed:
"One microbe of Asiatic cholera from the last corpse, one leg of a lively cancer, and one sample of our consumption germ!".
This bit of theater always brought titters and muffled laughter. A sleepy pallbearer appeared and placed the deadly glasses of microbes on the hollow casket with a resounding thump.
On the coffin table, the tapers were lighted and the undertaker would intone, "Behold the microbes of death! Drink them with resignation."
"Drink, Macchabees!" he wailed: "drink these noxious potions, which contain the vilest and deadliest poisons!"
And with that, the master of ceremonies would then hold up a human femur bone and begin to tell grim stories.
His voice was solemn and impressive and he delivered a well-worded discourse on death.
Attention would be drawn to some beautiful large paintings of dancers at the old Moulin Rouge filled with happy revelers until slowly the dangers merged into a grotesque dance of skeletons.
He then pointed to an intense battle scene, the combatants were butchering one another in a mad lust for blood. Suddenly the picture began to glow, the light bringing out its ghastly details with hideous distinctness.
Then as suddenly it faded away, and where fighting men had been there were skeletons writhing and struggling in a deadly embrace.
A similar effect was produced with a painting giving a wonderfully realistic representation of an execution by the guillotine. The bleeding trunk of the victim lying upon the flap-board dissolved, the flesh slowly disappearing, leaving only the white bones.
For added atmosphere, bells were tolling in the distance and a scratchy record played a funeral march. This was the moment when the undertaker would lead the guests through dark and narrow passages where they finally ended up at the Caveau des Trépasses.
Second Stop: Caveau des Trépasses
This was a long cavern with arched ceilings and what looked to be ancient, cold, dark, damp walls. Way at the end of the cavern was a small stage with an upright coffin as its centerpiece.
Here one of the visitors was induced to step up on a stage and stand facing the crowd in coffin.
After the volunteer was wrapped in a symbolic white shroud and with the help of mirrors, the guests in the audience would gasp as they see a man or a women changing into a skeleton in front of their very eyes, performed with the aid of hidden, optical trickery. And no sooner the volunteer been a skeleton when they would return to their normal self, much to the audience's collective relief.
After this, the guests were led through more dark and narrow passages into the third cave, where les spectres tristes was produced.
Third Stop, Caveau, Les Spectres
In the last chamber, it looked very much like an underground mausoleum, complete with dozens of arched doorways and hanging lamps. The guests would sit on stone benches facing a small dark stage, set back into the main arch.
A volunteer was asked to sit in a chair with a table. Suddenly, a live spirit would appear out of nowhere and would walk around the sitting volunteer.
The Cabaret du Néant acquired an important place in the history of Visual Media and optical trickery. A variant of the optical stage technique "Pepper's Ghost" was performed there often.
After being escorted to the end, one had the privilege of purchasing one of many souvenirs on the way out, as a reminder of the wonderful time they had at the Cabaret du Néant in the City of Lights.
This poster is 17 inches wide by 22 inches high, generous black ink and glow in the dark ink lushly printed on parchment stock.
PLEASE NOTE: This poster image was hand-drawn by Madame Talbot using General's Cedar Pointe #333-2HB pencils on Crescent 201.6 Hot Press Medium Weight illustration board at original poster size. An antique Koh-i-Noor rapidograph pen and Dr. P. H. Martin's Bombay Black India ink were used for final inking.
After completion, the image was hand-delivered to Ryan Gwinner Press in Portland, Oregon and printed on an offset printing press.
Absolutely no computers were used in the creation of this poster - from start to finish.
The copyright notice is on the website image only and not on the printed poster.