Le Chabanais

For the village in south-western France, see Chabanais

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.

It was founded by the Irish-born Madame Kelly, who was closely associated with several members of the prestigious Jockey-Club de Paris. The total cost of the establishment was reported to be the exorbitant sum of 1.7 million francs. The entrance hall was designed as a bare stone cave; the bedrooms were lavishly decorated, many in their own style: Moorish, Hindu, Japanese, Pompeii or in the style of Louis XVI. The Japanese room won a design prize at the 1900 World Fair in Paris.

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

The French government sometimes included a visit to the Chabanais as part of the program for foreign guests of state, disguising it as "visit with the President of the Senate" in the official program.

The French legal brothels, known as "maisons closes" or "maisons de tolerance", were closed by law in 1946, after a campaign by Marthe Richard. In a 2003 poll, nearly two thirds of the French favored re-opening legal brothels.

Today, the six-story building is used as an apartment house. The Musée de l'Erotisme in Pigalle devotes one floor to the maisons closes. Prince Edward's love seat is exhibited there, as is 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. The 2003 BBC Four documentary Storyville - Paris Brothel describes the maisons closes and contains footage of the Chabanais. The 7-volume Petit Larousse encyclopedia of 1906 has an article on the Chabanais.

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