Joséphine Baker and the Revue Nègre

Joséphine Baker and the Revue Nègre

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  • The Negro Revue.

    COLIN Paul (1892 - 1985)

  • Josephine Baker.


© ADAGP, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

© BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN-Grand Palais All rights reserved

Publication date: October 2006

Historical context

The Roaring Twenties, antidote to the Great War

« Roaring Twenties Of Broadway portrayed by Fitzgerald in the United States, the Roaring Twenties symbolized in France by the scandal of Negro review : the decade following the Great War may appear to be a luxury break later called "the interwar years". The “generation of fire” - of which Paul Colin (1892-1985), who was injured in Verdun in 1916, was also a member - may testify, demonstrate and commemorate, it seems that the French seek to forget and rush into a race. frenetic consumption and modernity.

Since the turn of the century, the traditional café-concert has gradually evolved into a music hall. Appointed poster designer and decorator of the Parisian room, Paul Colin, a prominent figure in Art Deco, begins with this poster a long career as a successful designer.

Image Analysis

La Revue nègre, between caricature and modernity

Before delivering the final drawing for the first poster of the Revue nègre, Paul Colin follows at length the rehearsals of the troop (thirteen dancers and twelve musicians, including Sydney Bechet), who came from New York where they have already triumphed on Broadway. The only change, and of size: the replacement of the star - who refused to make the trip - by a young girl of barely eighteen: Josephine Baker. It is therefore logical that Colin chooses to include it on the poster, at the top of a classic triangle composition. This document corresponds to one of his preliminary sketches.
On the white background the dark brown and the red of the stylized figures stand out clearly. The dancer herself stands out in white and gray against the background of fracs and black skins; it is lightness, erotic suggestion and frail provocation imposed on the raw and massive energy of the musician and the dancer. The exaggerated roundness of the dancer's forms and the eyes of the two "negroes", archetypes recognizable by their thick red lips and their frizzy hair, draws the drawing towards caricature, conscious and assumed.

But the sketch also captures the movement that drives the entire troop. The disposition and balanced attitudes of the three characters, represented here on the spot, in a snapshot, as if in suspense, give the illusion of witnessing a moment in the show. The syncopated rhythm of the hi-hat is clearly reflected in Joséphine Baker's provocative sway. Finally, the publicity of the show itself and its fame are ensured by the recall of the grimaces - swollen cheeks, rolling and squinting eyes, animal postures - which were imposed on him for the last scene, known as the “wild dance”. .

The photographic portrait of Joséphine Baker in full glory, during the continuation of the tour in Berlin, synthesizes everything that the young black American girl brought and inspired in Paris of the Roaring Twenties. She appears here against a neutral background, without any exotic decor, in a rather demure pose - especially in view of the "wild" (in fact, strongly erotic) attitudes she assumed during her shows. The artist’s simple nudity is heightened by the exuberance of the ostrich feathers which veil and at the same time suggest his arch. The eye-catchers of her jet-black “boyish” cut and tanned skin contrast like on Paul Colin's poster with his wedge eyes, shining teeth, the pearls that wave on his chest and, finally, the cuffs, "anklets" and white shoes. Her posture, one arm raised, one hand on the hip, her head tilted in a gesture of invitation, entered the collective imagination as it is.


The heyday of "black fashion" in art: the "Josephine Baker phenomenon", emblem of the Roaring Twenties

The "negro" theme inspired the avant-gardes of the turn of the century before crystallizing in the figure of Joséphine Baker and the irruption of jazz on the Parisian stages. The first "negro" dance was introduced in Paris by Gabriel Astruc at the Nouveau Cirque, in 1903: it was in fact the cake walk inspired by minstrels shows Americans - where whites dressed up as blacks to sing and dance like the old slaves.

The "negro art" dear to Picasso or the surrealists, the poems of Cendrars or the melodies of Milhaud and Satie, testify to a certain "negrophilia" of French artists of the first quarter of the twentieth century. It is inseparable from an aspiration for modernity which arouses scandal: African idols opposed to the statues of classical antiquity, jazz landed with American soldiers of the Great War competing with chamber music or the opera of Old Europe - and finally, Joséphine Baker, the hectic dancer with a light banana loincloth (in her 1927 show).

It seems that the “wild dance” which revealed the dancer to Tout-Paris on October 2, 1925 was added to the New York scenography at the request of the owners of the Music-hall of the Champs-Élysées, in lack of spectators. The scandal thus artificially created equaled that which Diaghilev's Ballets Russes had aroused in the previous decade. Here, it is undoubtedly less due to the fantasized bestiality of the "Negroes" in the imagination of the French than to the total freedom connoted by the nudity, the swaying, the grimaces, the smile, the short hairstyle of Josephine Baker. She embodies the image of the emancipated woman able to enjoy herself, to decide her body - to surrender to the party of the Roaring Twenties.

  • dance
  • Hobbies
  • music hall
  • Paris
  • stardom
  • Baker (Josephine)
  • Champs Elysees


Emmanuel BONINI, Joséphine Baker: 100 images for a legend, Périgueux, La Lauze, 2001. Paul COLIN, The Black Tumult, Paris, Éditions d´Art Succès, 1928, republished Paris, La Martinière, 1998. Jean-Claude KLEIN, The song on the bill. History of French song from the café-concert to the present day, Paris, Du May, 1991.Denis-Constant MARTIN and Olivier ROUEFF, The France of Jazz: Music, Modernity and Identity in the First Half of the 20th Century, Marseille Parenthèses, 2002.Alain WEILL, Paul Colin, poster designer, Paris, Denoël, 1989.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Joséphine Baker and the Revue Nègre"

Video: Josephine Baker - Black is Beautiful