Friday, 15 January 2016

The promenade de Longchamp

"Longchamp sous Louis XIV" .From L'Illustration, Journal Universel, 30 April 1859

The "Promenade of Longchamp" was an important annual event in the social calendar of pre-Revolutionary Paris.  In the 1760s it had become fashionable to drive out through the Bois-de-Bologne during Holy Week to hear the office of Tenebrae sung by the nuns of the abbey of Longchamp - especially so, when the nuns misguidedly fortified  their choir with singers from the Paris opera.  So great was the crowd that many Parisians drove their carriages to the abbey and back to the capital without being able to attend a service.  Archbishop de Beaumont tried to stop the indecent behaviour of the congregation by allowing only nuns to sing, but it was too late; by that time the "promenade de Longchamp" had become firmly established as part of the social season - the more attractive since, with the theatres in Paris closed, high society had little better to do. Participants competed unashamedly for the greatest  magnificence in carriages and livery.  As Professor McManners pointed out, despite gulf between rich and poor, the spectacle encouraged a certain social solidarity: "the irreligious ostentation of the great provided a celebration of revolt for everyone" (McManners, Church & Society in Eighteenth-century France, vol.1, p.87).  While the rich vied in their splendour, spectators lined the way; the police turned out in force,  the city watch lining the streets out to the Porte Maillot and the maréchaussée patrolling the woods beyond.

The most brazen contestants of all were the filles entretenues of court nobles and financiers, who flouted social convention with their provocative displays of ill-gotten wealth.  Mlle Guimard the dancer, "la belle Damnée", stole the show in 1768 with an invented coat-of-arms painted on the doors of her carriage -  the figures that supported it were said to have been painted by Boucher himself.  In 1774 two dancers vied with each other in splendid six-horse carriages. The following year one of them, Mlle Duthé, adorned her horses with a blue morocco leather and polished steel, only to find herself set upon by a hostile crowd.  In 1780 the daughter of the duchesse de Mazarin was upstaged by a common dancer, both of them in sumptuous porcelain carriages;  the next year the dancer had the duc de Chartres riding alongside in attendance. According to Bachaumont,  in 1787, on the eve of Revolution, Mlle Rozalie of the Comédie-Italienne behaved so badly that she found herself temporarily holding court in the prison of Fort l'Évêque (Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol.18,  30th April 1787).  The Archbishop tried in vain to close the route into the Bois de Bologne.  The promenade did not, of course, long survive the Revolution and, although revived in the 19th century, never again recovered its pre-Revolutionary splendour.


 Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Tableau de Paris,1782. chpt 122
On the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, everyone leaves town on the excuse of hearing the office of Tenebrae at Longchamp, a little village four miles from Paris.  The real reason is to compete with one another for the most magnificent carriage, the most dashing horses, the most beautiful livery.

Women bedecked in precious jewels  come to be seen; for the whole existence of a Parisian woman revolves around being noticed.  All sorts and conditions of society can be seen in the line of carriage driving back and forth along the dusty or muddy alleys of the Bois de Boulogne.

The courtesan can be easily recognised by the luxury of her equipage;  one even had her horses' harnesses set with diamonds.  Princes show off the latest inventions of the saddler's art, and even sometimes take the reins themselves.  Men on horseback and on foot, jostled around in the crowd, eye up the women. Ordinary people drink and get drunk; the church is deserted, the cabarets full; and this is how we lament the passion of Christ.

In former times people went to Longchamp because of the music.  The Archbishop imagined that, by forbidding it, he was going to put a stop to the promenade; he was mistaken.  The faithful promeneurs still crossed the Bois de Bologne to the doors of the church, but didn't enter.  When Spring comes, when the West wind blows, the sky is blue and the leaves are green, it is the time to greet Nature in her own temple and to thank her for remembering us  once more.

Women are not the chief attraction; the carriages and horses are the most important spectacles.  Dilapidated fiacres serve to set off new and elegant conveyances.  Modern carriages are better designed and more beautiful than the heavily decorated coaches of old.  They are lighter in every way and go much faster.

The working man comes out on these days, puts on his Sunday best, and mingles with the crowd, watching the pretty women; but he can be recognised by his dirty and calloused hands.

Whilst some people walk around, breathing the clean fresh Spring, others go to Church  to hear the jeremiads which break the monotony of the long sad service.  It all ends with a kind of wild uproar.  It is a time schoolboys look forward to.

Baron de Frénilly, Souvenirs ed. A. Chuquet (Paris, 1909) p.28-9.
I have seen Longchamp in its greatest brilliance.  Two rows of carriages departed from the front of the Place Louis XV, two more returned likewise from the extremity of the Bois de Bologne....A fiacre was not to be seen; a hired coach would have been whistled at, and there was some disdain for a coach and four, which revealed the lower ranks of the law or finance, by the vanity of baving more than two horses and the impossibility of having six.  At Longchamp, the height of bon ton, in effect,
was to have two horses or six, and only on the Wednesday and the Friday, for the importance of being either first or last is one of those caprices of fashion that can be well explained by vanity....

Account translated from L'Illustration, journal universel vol.1 (1843)
It was at the beginning of the reign of Louis XV that excursions to the abbey became a regular event.  A celebrated singer, mademoiselle Le Maure, left the theatre in 1737, to the great sorrow of the public, which always bitterly regrets those who decide to abandon it.  But singing was her life; she could not bring herself to give it up completely; tired of intoning the loves of Armide or Alceste, she filled the vaults of Longchamp with her soaring notes.  The nuns took lessons from the actress; their lugubrious psalmody became an angelic chorus and all Paris rushed to hear them sing Tenebrae during Holy Week.  The Abbess, astonished by this success, set out in quest of good voices, and invited the choruses of the Opera to take part. The dryads of the Triomphe de l'Amour, the infernal divinities of Persée, intoned, with the virgins of the Lord, quare fremuerunt gentes, or miserere mei, Deus.  Parisians thought they were at the theatre.  They beseiged the doors, they piled into the nave, clambered into the galeries, stood on chairs, on tombs, on the altars in the chapels.  For several years, there was a terrible commotion, an avalanche of noisy visitors; the little church was invaded by city society. Finally, curiosity-seekers who arrived on the Wednesday of Holy Week found that the gates of Longchamp had been closed by order of M. de Beaumont, the Archbishop of Paris.  The annual pilgrimage continued nevertheless.  This was the start of the promenades, a public festival of Spring,  in honour of the sun and la toilette, of new leaves and new fashions, of the return of beautiful days and pretty women.  Obliged to forgo the canticles of Longchamp,  it now paid hommage to the Reviver of Nature after the winter.

...Between 1750 and 1760 Longchamp reached its apogee.  It became a great ceremonial occasion: grand seigneurs, diplomats, public officials and Farmer-Generals vied with each other in luxury and elegance.  In Naples or Madrid, for the sake of piety, the king himself would not have dared to show himself in a carriage during Holy Week; in Paris, however, the aristocracy prepared for weeks in advance their most sumptuous equipages.  Modest bourgeois, who would normally travel on foot, abandoned their custom for three days.  Calashes, fiacres, cabriolets, coaches, horses,  sedan chairs, vinaigrettes, any vehicle that was available was requisitioned.  From the Wednesday of Holy Week a chaotic crowd encumbered the roads around the  Champs-Elysée and the Bois de Boulogne.  Actresses came to claim the applause that they had been derived by the Easter closure of the theatres.  Women of ill-repute showed themselves resplendent in diamonds which adorned them without eclipsing their splendour.  Journalists, pamphleteers, social commentators, never failed to turn up, and the numerous documents allow us to trace the saga of Longchamp almost year by year.

The promenade of March 1768 was favoured by beautiful weather and warmth:  "Princes, the good and great of the Kingdom", say contemporary accounts, "appeared with the best-designed, most magnificent carriages"  The heroine of the fete was the dancer Guimard, whom Marmontel had nicknamed "la bellee damnée". She appeared in "a carriage of exquisite elegance", on the panels of which, to rival the great ladies, she had had painted a coat-of-arms. The shield featured a gold coin with a parasitic sprig of mistletoe  growing from it; it was supported by Graces and surmounted by Cherubs. The coat-of-arms proclaimed her shamefully acquired money; but in this reign licence was too common to cause affront; the impudence of her admission was forgotten and no-one thought of anything but the cleverness of the conceit.

Several years later, in April 1774, the singer Duthé succeeded Mademoiselle Guimard in the role of "fashionable beauty".  The golden and glazed carriage,  pulled by six no less superb fringed horses, did not belong, as one would suppose, to a princess of royal blood; it carried la Duthé. On the Wednesday and Thursday of Holy Week she excited admiration; she believed herself without rival; but on the third day another carriage, no less gilded, pulled by six no less superb horses, galloped alongside hers.  Who was it who challenged her carriage for carriage, who held up their striking features against the commonplace beauty of la Duthé?  It was an obscure pupil of Aubinot, a dancer's double from the Opera, the demoiselle Cléophile, who had acquired a sudden opulence thanks to the protection of the comte d'Aranda.

The following year, la Duthé suffered the full fickleness of the public. As soon as her carriage entered into line, threatening groups surrounded it; hoots, whistles, shouts of indignation, assailed her with such force that she was obliged to withdraw.  Vague rumours, perhaps unjust, had provoked this explosion of displeasure. The comte d'Artois, who had been married for two years to Maria-Theresa of Savoy, often travelled incognito from Versailles to Paris.  He was bored with the biscuit of Savoy  said M de Bievre, and came to Paris to take tea;  the Parisians, who normally had few scruples, took the side of the abandoned comtesse.

The crowds of actresses and women of easy virtue made Longchamp so scandalous a spectacle that the Archbishop of Paris, who had unsuccessfully hampered it in the beginning, now tried to stop its progress. In 1776 he attempted to have the Minister close the gates to the Bois de Bologne during Holy Week, out of respect for the Jubilee year.   But his demands failed and the promenade took place as usual.

The tragedienne Raucourt, the prima dona of the Longchamp of 1777, almost didn't make it. On the 29th  March, resplendant and proud as though she was playing Roxane, she got ready  to get into her carriage.  You are thinking of going to Longchamp, madame; you are eagar to make a good impression and shine; but you have counted without your creditors.  You haven't noticed them waiting in ambush around your town house; here they are, they surround you, they take hold of your person, they invite you politely to sleep at the Fort l'Evque.  Fortunately for you, a generous - though not disinterested- man sacrifies several thousand louis, so that you can collect the ovation that awaits you.

The Longchamp of 1780 was one of the most brilliant, despite the intensity of the cold.  The linke of carriages stretched without interruption from the Place Louis XV to the porte Maillot, between two lines of soldiers of the watch.  The carriages circulated more freely in the Bois de Bolognes which was guarded only by the marechaussee.  Outstanding among the marvels were two carriages made of porcelain.  The first, occupied by the duchesse de Valentinois, was pulled by four dapple-grey horses with crimson silk harnesses embroidered with silver.  The second belonged to an "impure", mademoiselle Beaupré.  It reappeared the next year with a Prince of the Blood, the duc de Chartres, as an outrider, which, said Bachaumont, "did not increase his standing in public esteem".

In spite of the presence of Monsieur, of the comte and comtesse of Artois, and the duc and the duchesse of Bourbon, the Longchamp of 1781 was a sad one.  For several years, there had been a progressive reduction in the number and extravagance of the carriages, although costumes had reached a degree of extravagance that would have added splendour to a display of fashion  anywhere in the world....Massive carriages had been replaced by cabriolets imported from England, wiskys or garricks, light vehicles, but of a prodigious height, so that people seeing them pass would say, "There go people who want to light the street lamps"...The remarkable beauties of 1786 were the demoiselles Adelaie and Deschamps, both from the Comédie Italienne.  The first had received from M. de Weymeranges, intendant of the post a present of a thousand louis for her Longchamp.

The Revolution suspended Longchamp.  How could it have been otherwise?  Horses were commandeered for service in fourteen armies and blood flowed on the former Place Louis XV......

An important modification introduced in the Longchamp of 1787 temporarily restored its original brilliance. They abandoned the uneven and sandy route from the abbey and adopted the road that went from La Muette to Madrid.  Bachaumont reported that people couldn't recall in a long time such a crowd of people, so many beautiful and bizarre carriages;  the wiskys stood out particularly. Many of the young bloods and women acquired  themselves a different vehicle  for each day  One particularly bizarre and galant wisky excited comment.  This wisky was surmounted by a figure of Folly with its sceptre; inside were four marionettes, two of each sex, waving to the right and to the left without cease; all this was drawn by an prettily harnessed donkey, with a jockey steering the animal.   On the side of the carriage could be read:  Where do I  come from?  Where am I going? Where am I?  They called it the parody of Longchamp, since it seemed to be offered as a criticism.  Whatever the case, these events pleased the marquis de Villette, who is said today to have been the creator.

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