Le Chabanais

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Le Chabanais
12 rue Chabanais today
Le Chabanais is located in Paris
Le Chabanais
Le Chabanais
Location in Paris
Address12 rue Chabanais
LocationParis, France
Coordinates48°52′3.41″N 2°20′13.50″E / 48.8676139°N 2.3370833°E / 48.8676139; 2.3370833Coordinates: 48°52′3.41″N 2°20′13.50″E / 48.8676139°N 2.3370833°E / 48.8676139; 2.3370833
OperatorMadame Kelly
(Alexandrine Joannet)
Construction cost1.7 million francs

Le Chabanais was one of the best known and most luxurious brothels in Paris, operating near the Louvre at 12 rue Chabanais from 1878 until 1946, when brothels were outlawed in France. It was founded by the Irish-born Madame Kelly, who was closely acquainted with several members at the Jockey-Club de Paris. Among the habituées were Albert, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII of the United Kingdom); Toulouse-Lautrec; Cary Grant; Humphrey Bogart, Mae West and diplomatic guests of the French government.


Belle Epoque[edit]

The brothel, famous enough to warrant mentioning in the 7-volume Nouveau Larousse illustré encyclopaedia of 1904,[1] was founded by the Irish-born Madame Kelly (real name - Alexandrine Joannet (or possibly Jouannet[2])), who was closely associated with several members at the prestigious Jockey-Club de Paris.[1] She sold shares in the profitable business to wealthy anonymous investors.[3] The total cost of the establishment was reported to be the exorbitant sum of 1.7 million francs.[1] The entrance hall was designed as a bare stone cave; the bedrooms were lavishly decorated, many in their own style: Moorish, Hindu, Japanese, Pompeii and Louis XVI. The Japanese room won a design prize at the 1900 World Fair in Paris.[4] Madame Kelly died in 1899.[2]

Post World War I[edit]

In the mid-1920s, Le Chabanais was overtaken by the One Two Two (fr:One-Two-Two) as the top luxury brothel in Paris.

World War II[edit]

During the World War II German occupation of France, twenty top Paris brothels, including Le Chabanais, Le Sphinx, One-Two-Two, La Fleur blanche(fr:La Fleur blanche), La rue des Moulins, and Chez Marguerite, were reserved by the Wehrmacht for German officers and collaborating Frenchmen.[5] The brothels flourished and Hermann Göring visited Le Chabanais, as is related in the 2009 two-volume book 1940–1945 Années Erotiques by Patrick Buisson.[6][7]

Post World War II[edit]

The French legal brothels, known as "maisons closes" or "maisons de tolérance", were closed by law in 1946, after a campaign by Marthe Richard. The backlash against the brothels was in part due to their collaboration with the Germans.[6] A 2002 survey showed that, despite the fact that 64% of the French thought that prostitution was "a degrading practice for the image and the dignity of the woman (or the man)", nearly two-thirds believed that reopening the brothels would be a good idea.[4][8]

Closure and auction[edit]

On 8 May 1951 the contents of La Chabanais were sold at auction by Maurice Rheims, publicly revealing the furnishings, furniture and equipment including Edward VII's chaise de volupté and his copper champagne bath decorated with a sphinx. The bath was bought for 110,500 francs by the antiques dealer Jacob Street and was acquired in 1972 by Salvador Dalí, who placed it in his room at the Hotel Meurice.[9][10]

Notable visitors[edit]

The French government sometimes included a visit to the Chabanais as part of the programme for foreign guests of state, disguising it as "visit with the President of the Senate" in the official programme at the opening of the World's Fair in 1889.[1][11]

Prominent visitors included King Carlos I of Portugal; Jagatjit Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala; writer Pierre Louÿs; Cary Grant; Humphrey Bogart; Mae West; Roscoe Arbuckle, and Marlène Dietrich on the arm of Erich Maria Remarque.[11][12][13][14]


The artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a frequent visitor; he painted 16 tableaux for the house, now held in private collections.[15]

Guy de Maupassant[edit]

The poet Guy de Maupassant built a copy of the Moorish room in his mansion at the sea, so that he wouldn't have to miss it during his vacations.

Edward - Prince of Wales[edit]

Caricature of Edward VII in Le Chabanais, published 1903 in L'indiscret

"Bertie", Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, often visited during the 1880s and 1890s. One room carried his coat of arms over the bed and a large copper bath-tub with a half-woman-half-swan figurehead,[4] which he liked to fill with champagne and which, in 1951 after the closure, Salvador Dalí bought for 112,000 francs.[1][5] Edward, who was heavily overweight, also had a "love seat" (siège d'amour) manufactured by Louis Soubrier, a cabinetmaker of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, allowing easy access for oral and other forms of sex with several participants.[3][16]

Modern usage[edit]

Today, the six-story building is used as an apartment house.

Musée de l'Erotisme[edit]

The Musée de l'Erotisme in Pigalle devotes one floor to the maisons closes, exhibiting Polissons et galipettes, a collection of short erotic silent movies that were used to entertain brothel visitors, and copies of Le Guide Rose, a contemporary brothel guide that also carried advertising.[15] The 2003 BBC Four documentary Storyville – Paris Brothel describes the maisons closes and contains footage of the Chabanais. A replica of Edward's love seat is exhibited in a Prague sex museum; the original was sold at auction in 1996 to a private party.[17]


An exhibition about historical Paris brothels took place in a gallery across the street from the building at 12 rue Chabanais from November 2009 to January 2010.[14][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Die Sphinx im Freudenhaus, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17 August 1996. (in German)
  2. ^ a b "Repères". 13 October 2013.
  3. ^ a b Dirty Bertie's seat of pleasure, The Times, 17 January 2004
  4. ^ a b c Remembering the brothels the French want back, Agence France Presse, 6 April 2003
  5. ^ a b Die Schliessung der "Maisons closes" lag im Zug der Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 October 1996. (in German)
  6. ^ a b Peter Allen, Sleeping with the enemy: How 'horizontal collaborators' in Paris brothels enjoyed a golden age entertaining Hitler's troops, Daily Mail, 1 May 2009
  7. ^ Véronique Willemin, La Mondaine, histoire et archives de la Police des Mœurs, hoëbeke, 2009, p. 102.
  8. ^ Survey results Archived 24 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine, CSA, 23 October 2002. (in French)
  9. ^ "Urban Trip Paris". Archived from the original on 2 August 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  10. ^ Silberstein, Irene. "Le chabanais, devenu centre touristique". www.canesegas.com.
  11. ^ a b Sean (1 June 2005). "The Brothels of Old Paris". Archived from the original on 23 July 2012.
  12. ^ "La reine Amélie, une Française au Portugal". Le Monde.fr.
  13. ^ "King Edward VII and Le Chabanais". ByronKho. 15 May 2011. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  14. ^ a b Genevieve Roberts (6 November 2009), "Sin city: show celebrates the Paris brothel that was loved by Cary Grant", The Independent
  15. ^ a b A Nice Mix of Art, History and Sex Archived 9 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Metropole Paris, 16 January 2004
  16. ^ Storyville – Paris Brothel, BBC Four documentary, 2003
  17. ^ Sean Thomas, Two’s company, three’s a sex throne, The First Post, 6 December 2005
  18. ^ "Maisons Closes 1860– 1946", VINGT Paris News, 8 December 2009, archived from the original on 15 December 2009

External links[edit]