About the Folies-Bergère

The Folies-Bergère was one of the brightest stars in the constellation of spectacular entertainments that flourished in late-19th-century Paris. A former department store that was converted into a variety show venue, it featured a pseudo-Moorish winter garden and an elegant, horseshoe-shaped theater. The owner cleverly removed the back rows on the theater's orchestra and balcony levels, opening up walkways that were generously served by bars. The resulting ambience was as much that of the café and boulevard as of the theater. Blazing with gas and electric lights and flashing with chandeliers and mirrors, this hybrid space was a smoke-filled microcosm of modern Paris in all its tawdry brilliance.

Posters throughout the city advertised the Folies-Bergère's ballets, pantomimes, operettas, and trapeze and circus acts. For many patrons, however, the real spectacle was the crowd itself—a bewildering mix of respectable and disreputable types including, most notoriously, a "painted tribe of prostitutes...on the prowl," as writer Guy de Maupassant described them. Also notable were the barmaids who, like most women working in the city's public commercial spaces, were objects of erotic fascination and routinely suspected of clandestine prostitution.

Poster for the Folies-Bergere / Cheret