Lolo at the Lapin Agile

I am still slowly working my way through The Wisdom of Donkeys,  Andy Merrifield’s obsessive philosophical monograph about the mindfulness of equus asinus. Years ago, when writing my MA dissertation at the Central School of Art and Design, I was immersed in every aspect of foolishness, while exploring the place of the irrational and the purely intuitive in the design process.  On the day of the awards, my tutor told me the awards panel had great difficulty deciding what to do with my dissertation: they would either fail me or give me a distinction.  In the end, they gave me a distinction.

It was while engaged in that postgraduate work, nearly thirty years ago, that I first read the story of the donkey Lolo at the Lapin Agile in Montmartre.  Andy Merrifield’s book has revived my interest in this wonderful episode.

This is not only a painting made by a donkey, but it became a sensation in Paris as art critics argued the merits of ‘Excessivism’ – the apparent new art movement advocated by the artist Boronali (the donkey Lolo with a paintbrush attached to his tail).

The moment was captured on camera.  ‘Boronali’ was driven in his artistic inspration by various vegetables held before his nose, producing a corresponding excess of manic tail swishing which eventually produced the main ‘statement’ of Excessivism: Sunset on the Adriatic Sea.

Spot the celebrity masked artists: Picasso is right there among them!  This took place at the Lapin Agile cabaret bar, where Lolo was a regular performer, braying to guitar music.  It is just a century ago, two world wars ago, several recessions back; and doesn’t it seem like an age of innocence?

But don’t ask me, I’m just a Lapin Agile, preparing a home for artistic donkeys.

The Lapin Agile, Montmartre

Postscript: I have just discovered another photo of Lolo, pictured with Frede the owner of the Lapin Agile.  Apparently, the donkey’s main claim to fame was its flatulence.  I am trying to find out more about this, if only to clear the air.


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself dividing my time mostly between looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca and preparing a legal case against the corrupt management of my monstrous last employer - the Elians group - for unfair dismissal. I like to hear the wind in the pine trees. I do not like struggling to get a duvet into a duvet cover. My musical tastes are extinct and I have mostly given up cycle racing.
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6 Responses to Lolo at the Lapin Agile

  1. toadspittle says:

    What a relief to read that ‘Lolo’s’ day job, when not painting, was singing.
    I do believe donkeys in cabarets in foreign parts were often forced to perform far less edifying tasks to earn a carrot.

  2. Frere Rabit says:

    I am still exploring the subject, Toad, but it appears there are many mysteries surrounding Lolo. I am intent on getting to the bottom of this donkey. Now it appears that its main claim to cabaret fame was its flatulence, as infuriatingly mentioned in passing but without further details, in one account of the notorious party thrown by artists for the primitive Henri Rousseau. Apparently, Lolo was present at the party:

    “By midnight, the whole of Montmatre was arriving at Picasso’s door. In the kaleidoscopic chaos, guests have recalled peculiar vignettes. The owner of the Lapin Agile, Fredé, arrived with his famously flatulent donkey Lola. (An artist had once tied a paintbrush to its tail, letting it paint a surprisingly Impressionist-like canvass which was then exhibited under the title “And the Sun Went Down Over the Adriatic,” to great acclaim). Marie Laurençin, blind drunk, flailed about in a dervish dance and then fell on a pile of pastries. ”

    For the sake of history and in order to set the record straight for the honour of this celebrity donkey, I must find out more. I have discovered another photo of Lolo, now added to my earlier blogpost.

  3. Barbara says:

    I bet Lolo couldn’t undo zips and velcro……Even if they had been invented then!

    BTW, did you really mean this “I am intent on getting to the bottom of this donkey.”
    Because if so, I am not sure you are a safe person to live with donkeys 😉

  4. Frere Rabit says:

    Well, it would appear that Lolo the norty farting cabaret donkey was not a very safe donkey to live with peeples either! Roodness.

    I have just discovered a donkey nearby: while taking a short cut, I discovered a donkey in a field only a kilometre from here. A lovely brown donkey. I couldn’t get closer than a couple of hundred metres, so I stood there for a few minutes making clicking noises. There was an elaborate semaphore response from the very expressive ears. No idea what the semaphore meant, however. Prolly, “I’m not Lolo the farting donkey, so bugger off and leave me alone. Next time bring carrots.”

  5. Sarah says:

    On Tuesday, December 28, 2010, PBS (in the U.S.) broadcast a 2-hour made-for-TV documentary about 20th century modern art in Paris.

    You can watch documentary, Paris: the luminous years: toward the making of the modern, for free at

    The video downloads very slowly.

    At 00.50, you can see a still photo of Père Frédé Gérard, who had owned both Lolo and the Lapin Agile.

    From 04.38 – 04.41, you can see film footage of the fabulous Lolo himself. Oddly, the narrator does not identify the donkey or explain why the footage appears in the documentary. Those of us who are familiar with Lolo will recognize the clever soul by his white spectacle-like eye markings and dark fur. I’m a huge fan of Lolo and was thrilled to see that film footage of him exists.

    Does anyone know if the Lapin Agile or Espace culturel Paul Bédu à Milly-la-Forêt sells copyright-cleared, high-quality lithographs of Coucher de soleil sur l’Adriatique?

    P.S. I think Roland Dorgelès was a genius.

  6. Frere Rabit says:

    Sarah, that is a great link and many thanks! Unfortunately, the PBS broadcast concerned is not available in Spain where I live. It is good enough to know that the footage exists and I will try and find it elsewhere. Wonderful news! I have already decided that Lolo will appear in the novel I am writing (in a way which I will not divulge here, but suffice to say that the main action involves a global conspiracy by donkeys), so it is very important for my research that I see this footage!

    Thanks again for taking the trouble to write.

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