In the summer of 1908, while living in in a squalid green tenement in the hills of Montmartre, Picasso found a painting by neighbor and douanier Henri Rousseau in a local junk shop. Picasso bought the painting — now valued at over $100 million — for five francs, and decided to celebrate the occasion by throwing a party. Years later, ‘The Rousseau Banquet,’ is widely considered to be one of the high points of Paris’ mythologized Belle Époque.
In spite of a minor disaster with the caterer — which resulted in Fernande Olivier having to cook an enormous batch of Spanish rice — the party was a wild success, featuring the likes of Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Braque, the Steins, André Salmon, and Rousseau himself. By dawn, neighborhood streets were littered with the unconscious bodies of poets and artists, and at one point during the evening, before Gertrude and Theo Stein walked Rousseau home, the elderly artist took Picasso aside and told him, “You and I are the two greatest painters; I in the modern genre, you in the Egyptian.”
The Rousseau Banquet is one of the many events covered in
Perrottet’s last article for Tony’s Social Pages was about Andrew Jackson’s inaugural reception at the White House, a full-day drunken disaster (the Argentines would refer to it as a quilombo) which more closely resembled a tailgate party than a Washington gala, and resolutely confirmed the presence of populism in American politics. For some reason, the subject felt timely.
On the morning of March 4, 1828, a crash of cannons woke the nation’s capital, and the 30,000 visitors in town for the inauguration assembled on Pennsylvania Avenue to join the procession that would later end at the White House. Jackson, founder of the modern Democratic party, Civil War hero and apparent masochist, had decided to open the presidential home to the public:
The crowd quickly took possession of the White House: So many people were squeezed inside that the building itself creaked and shuddered dangerously. A bodyguard of loyal friends had to form a ring around the scarecrow figure of Jackson so he wouldn’t be crushed to death or asphyxiated by well-wishers. The strangers behaved if they were in a Mississippi saloon, standing in mud-caked boots on the damask chairs for a better view. But it wasn’t all riff-raff. Even some of the stuffy D.C. toffs got into the anarchic spirit. “Everyone from the highest and most polished,” marveled one attendee, Joseph Story, an associate judge of the Supreme Court, “down to the most vulgar and gross of the nation,” wanted their slice of the action. Some compared the crowd to the barbarians in Rome.
The party left the White House completely demolished, costing Congress over $50,000 to restore — a snide way of ringing in the presidency of a man who had been snubbed by the “corrupt aristocrats of the East” in the election four years prior. Running as a “man of the people,” Jackson’s election ushered in the era of modern democracy and earned him the nickname of King Mob, a title that sounds slightly like the name of a 40 oz and slightly like a premonition of the troubles to come.