It was 1908 and Pablo Picasso had recently purchased a 5 franc painting by Henri Rousseau at the second hand Montmatre market. The seller had said, they say, it was so bad that it should be painted over. Picasso seemingly saw some charm in the primitive style but with a view it was so bad it could actually be good. As a complete joke he, and his art critic friend Guillaume Apollinaire, decided to throw a lavish dinner party in Picasso’s studio in the Bateau Lavoir and invite him amongst a group of noteworthy others – Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Georges Braque, Gertrude and Leo Stein. Their mockery included nicknaming Rousseau ‘douanier’ which means customs officer as Rousseau worked as a civil servant.
At this time Rousseau had not yet become the man we know for his jungle scenes in the National Gallery in London, instead he painted clumsy scenes of everyday life and some were even slashed as the subjects of ridicule so to supplement his income as an artist he played the violin in the streets of Paris.
No doubt some parts to the story have been exaggerated and twisted over time but it seems Picasso gave the caterer the wrong day so at the last minute his mistress and muse, Fernande Olivier, had to improvise and created a form of one pot chicken and rice dish that was well received and loved by all. Rousseau had, of course, taken his violin with him and Braques an accordion so together they all drank and sang merrily. By midnight the party had left the dining table and the word was out that there was party at Picasso’s and an entourage joined them. At some point, Rousseau is said to have announced to Picasso: “You and I are the greatest painters: I in the modern genre, you in the Egyptian.”
Rousseau left in the early hours of the morning with the Steins and the remaining guests stayed and slept on the floor.
If you’d like to read more see one of our favourite books on Picasso here.
If you’d like to see the mel at home version of what they ate see here.