The legend of la coupole


The favourite studio of the artists of Montparnasse

The pillars treated in imitation marble and the Cubist-inspired mosaics are listed on the Registry of Historic Monuments; the pilasters are adorned with paintings by the minor masters of the Roaring Twenties: La Coupole is the temple of Art Deco. It was brought to life in 1927 through the determination of two Auvergne natives, Ernest Fraux and René Lafon. Its grand opening was attended by the brightest stars of art, literature and nightlife: artists and their models, socialites and big spenders, easy women and impossible women.

The restaurant was off and running. Action flitted from the American bar tended by Bob to the rows of tables topped with linen or paper tablecloths. Painters such as Derain, Léger, Soutine, Man Ray, Brassai, Kisling and Picasso were elbow to elbow--sometimes with their fists raised... Aragon met Elsa and Simenon dined with Josephine Baker. Breton slapped Chirico and Kessel downed his glasses. An unknown writer with tiny round glasses, Henry Miller, took breakfast at the bar; Matisse sipped beer while Joyce lined up his whiskeys. When Mistinguett made her entrance surrounded by her boys, the room stood to applaud her. After France was liberated, the party began anew. The "Ladder" painters designed a fresco and work was displayed by artists from the School of Paris. Yves Klein wanted to paint the obelisk blue; La Coupole gave him a cocktail. César shared an intimate dinner with the bust of President Auriol, Camus celebrated his Nobel prize and Jean-Paul Sartre left hefty tips at his regular table, no. 149..

In May 1968, Cohn-Bendit climbed atop a table. Patti Smith played guitar on the terrace, Renaud busked and Gainsbourg and Birkin came for Sunday lunches. The years flew by... In 1984, Chagall celebrated his birthday at table 73; a few years later François Mitterrand sat at table 82 and ordered his last meal, a lamb curry. In 2008, the interior dome was decorated by four artists to reflect La Coupole's original spirit – nature, women, celebration: Ricardo Mosner, Carole Benzaken, Fouad Bellamine and Xiao Fan. The world goes by and the enchantment continues.

Bertrand de Saint Vincent


Photos credits :  3rd photo on the right © Keystone France, 4th photo on the right © Roger-Viollet