Blog / Night in the City of Light

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A Parisian Ball -- Dancing at the Mabille, Paris

This post highlights our latest academic focus gallery installation Night in the City of Light: Paris’ Cabaret, 1881-1914. The installation is on view until June 29, 2014.

Cabaret and café-concert culture in late 19th-century France captivated a new public and served as a site for creative exchange between visual artists, musicians, poets, dancers, and theatre performers. Cabarets, or cabarets artistiques, offered a variety of flashy spectacles including singers who performed their own songs, while at café-concerts the audience listened to singers recite popular melodies of the period. Both were awash in alcohol. A companion installation, Cheap Thrills: The Highs and Lows of Montmartre’s Cabaret Culture, 1881-1939 in the Perkins Gallery (February 18 – May 15, 2014) provides an additional overview of cabaret venues and famous performers.

Bal du Moulin Rouge

These installations showcase important material from the Nasher Museum of Art and the David M. Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscript Library, such as sheet music, posters, and illustrated periodicals. The auditory experience of the cabaret is reanimated by recordings of traditional cabaret songs newly arranged by Duke’s New Music Ensemble ([dnme]), which visitors can listen to in both installations. This music will also be presented live in a series of three [dnme] performances in the Von der Heyden Pavilion (February 21), Fullsteam Brewery (April 6), and Baldwin Auditorium (April 10).


These installations are the result of a collaboration between doctoral students in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Alexis Clark, Kathryn Desplanque, Emilie Anne-Yvonne Luse, and Laura Moure Cecchini, and doctoral students in music composition who participate in the Duke New Music Ensemble ([dnme]): Benito Crawford, D. Edward Davis, Timothy Hamburger, Jamie Keersecker, Dan Ruccia, and Vladimir Smirnov.

Winslow Homer, American, A Parisian Ball — Dancing at the Mabille, Paris, from Harper’s Weekly, November, 23, 1867. Wood engraving on newsprint, 9 1/8 x 13 5/8 inches (23.2 x 34.6 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC. Museum purchase, Von Canon Fund; 1974.2.92. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

Jules Chéret, Bal du Moulin Rouge (Ball at the Moulin Rouge), 1889. Lithograph on paper, 12 5/8 x 9 inches (32.1 x 22.9 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC. Bequest of Sara Lichtenstein, in memory of her parents, Joseph and Esther Lichtenstein; 1977.59.88. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

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