In 19th-century Paris, the coolest cats in the city gathered in what would become its first modern cabaret. Sipping boozy beverages, they settled in for a night of raucous entertainment at Le Chat Noir, a name inspired by the owner’s love of the literature of Edgar Allan Poe and Baudelaire which often featured sinister and symbolic black cats. Though the legendary nightclub has long since shuttered, it lives on in popular culture thanks to its beloved mascot.
Le Chat Noir only lasted from 1881 to 1897, but artwork and posters showing its signature cartoon black cat (also named Le Chat Noir) gained international esteem and became highly collectible. Even now, more than a century after the joint closed, it’s virtually impossible to pop into a Paris souvenir shop without seeing coffee cups, fridge magnets, posters, and postcards of the famous feline.
The cabaret’s legacy is preserved in a more esteemed locale, too. The Musee de Montmartre houses a wonderful collection of Le Chat Noir artwork. Seeing original prints and handbills from the 1800s, all graced by the iconic black cat, is a sight to behold. There are also several related works in the museum’s collection.
The famous poster was created by Theophile Steinlen, one of the leading poster artists of his day. Steinlen was a feline fancier who frequently featured cats in his poster designs. A fan of The elaborate halo behind the cat’s head in the Chat Noir poster is a nod to another poster designer of the day, Alphonse Mucha. Mucha often drew elaborate halo-like elements adorning the human figures in his work, and here Steinlen took the opportunity to make a tongue-in-cheek reference to his fellow designer.
The museum is housed in the oldest home in all of Montmartre, the Bel Air House, which was built in the 16th century. Though the museum preserves a variety of significant art, it places a large emphasis on the history of the Montmartre area. The museum was once a home, so keep in mind there are several floors and staircases to explore.
Know Before You Go
As with any museum, donations are always accepted. There is an entrance fee, too, but the Chat Noir collection alone is worth the price.