Exhibition Piaf - Press kit - BnF - Bibliothèque nationale de France

François-Mitterrand Paris 13e
14 avril 23 août 2015 bnf.fr
Avec le mécénat de
Réservations FNAC
0892 684 694 (0,34 € TTC/mn)
Édith Piaf sur la scène de l’Olympia à Paris, 1959
© Georges Dudognon / AdocPhotos.
BnF, délégation à la Communication.
Impression Stipa 2015
En partenariat avec
Presse release
Practical information
In the context of the exhibition
La Caisse d’Epargne Ile-de-France,
sponsor of the exhibition
April 14th I august 23rd 2015
Press release
The BnF organizes a major exhibition to celebrate Edith Piaf’s birth centenary.
Hundreds of various documents – sound and written documents, images – evoke the destiny
of a street singer who became a popular idol and an international icon. A moving tribute is
so paid to one of the most famous voices of French music.
‘ Allez, venez Milord…’, ‘ Non, rien de rien… ’, ‘ Si un jour la vie t’arrache à moi… ’ :
we all know Edith Piaf’s songs. A few bars, a few words are enough to bring the ritornello back to our minds. Her voice, her life, her repertoire: everything contributed to
turning the small street singer into a variety star, one of the major and worldwide famous figures
of French popular culture. The Bibliothèque nationale de France proposes to discover or re-discover the notes, pictures and words that made Edith Piaf a legend. Listening to and looking at
these documents, visitors will realize their emotional power but also their major part in the French
cultural history and collective memory.
Visitors will have the opportunity to re-discover the important moments of the singer’s life and career. They will also be invited to see her from various points of view: how the daughter of travelling
performers became the symbol of the French people; by what miracle she keeps being adulated
by her admirers, whether famous or anonymous; how a simple singer of realist songs could be
transformed into a unique and admired artist; how, as a singer but also as a lover, she personified
all the shades of love, from the most tragic one to the happiest, from the most submissive love to
the most non-conformist. The exhibition will also show how Piaf’s talent was recognized thanks
to radio, music industry and press; until art, media, cinema and television took hold of her image
and made her a legend.
The major part of documents on display belong to the BnF’s collections that surprisingly hold
various elements of popular culture: photographs, letters, posters, records, sound recordings,
film excerpts, magazines, mementi and the famous little black dress. These documents will be
complemented by resources from the Institut national de l’Audiovisuel and the Association des
amis d’Edith Piaf in particular.
Even when she became a true idol, Edith Piaf always remained a free and simple woman. The
exhibition will try to show the rebellious aspect of her personality to highlight this unconventional
character. For Piaf, celebrity was nothing compared to her passion for stage; money and comfort
nothing compared to the company of lovers and friends; and there was no sorrow, even the worst,
that could not be cleared away by a burst of laughter, a big ‘J’m’en fous pas mal’ (I shouldn’t care).
April 14th I august 23rd 2015
Galerie 2
BnF I François-Mitterrand
Quai François-Mauriac - Paris XIIIe
Métro : Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand (14), Quai de la Gare (6)
Bus : 62, 64, 89, 132 et 325
From Tuesday to Saturday10 a.m. -7 p.m.
on Sundays 13 a.m.-7 p.m.
Closed on Mondays and public holidays
Price : €9, reduced price : €7
FNAC booking number
tel: 0892 684 694 (0.34 euros TTC/mn), www.fnac.com
Joël Huthwohl, general curator, Department of performing arts, BnF
Bertrand Bonnieux, curator, Department of audiovisual, BnF
Anne Manouvrier,
with Alexandrine Monnier
Exhibition design
Scénography : : Je formule, Juliette Dupuy
Graphism : Je formule, Estelle Maugras
Guided tours
Visites guidées en français et en anglais
le jeudi, vendredi et samedi à 15h
Renseignements et réservations au 01 53 79 49 49
192 pages, 200 illustrations
Price : 39 €
BnF Editions
Press contacts
Claudine Hermabessière, head of press office
+33 1 53 79 41 18 - +33 06 82 56 66 17
[email protected]
Hélène Crenon, press officer - +33 1 53 79 46 76
[email protected]
Miss Edith, phénomène vocal
Photographie anonyme
BnF, Estampes et photographie
Achille Zavatta et Édith Piaf
lors de la tournée du Super Circus, 1954
Journal l’Aurore, D.R.
BnF, Estampes et photographie
Édith Piaf dans Si Versailles m’était conté
film de Sacha Guitry
Photographie de Jean Klissak
BnF, Arts du spectacle
Affiche du film Paris chante toujours
BnF, Arts du spectacle
La môme Piaf, supplément au catalogue
Polydor N° 88 Brunswick
Polydor, février 1936
BnF, Audiovisuel
Édith Piaf et son premier accordéoniste, Juel
PhotoStarpress, D.R.
BnF, Estampes et photographie
Édith Piaf en kimono dans sa loge, vers 1950
Édith Piaf et Bruno Coquatrix
© Frank Horvat
BnF, Estampes et photographie
Ordre de passage des chansons autographe d’Édith Piaf
« 1ère partie » et « 2ème partie », sur papier cahier, à l’encre
noire. 1963 BnF, Arts du spectacle
Lettre autographe (avec dessin en en-tête)
de Jean Cocteau à Édith Piaf, 9 août 1960
© ADAGP, Paris 2014
BnF, Arts du spectacle
Affiche de Charles Kiffer pour les disques Polydor,
© ADAGP, Paris 2014
BnF, Estampes et photographie
Édith Piaf et les Compagnons de la chanson
pochette de disque 45 tours de 1963
BnF, Audiovisuel
Édith Piaf sur la scène de l’Olympia à Paris, 1959
© Georges Dudognon / adoc-photos
Fiche demi-format « Padam Padam »
en anglais, 1963 (?)
BnF, Arts du spectacle
Édith Piaf,
la magnifique artiste de la chanson,
vedette des disques Polydor, 1941
par Claire Finel (Cinémathèque)
BnF, Estampes et photographie
Chanson autographe Édith Piaf Milord
en anglais sur papier cahier ligné
BnF, Arts du spectacle
Affiche de Gaston Girbal : Édith Piaf
disques Columbia. 1951
BnF, Estampes et photographie
Édith Piaf dans sa loge, 1936
© Jean-Gabriel Seruzier/ Gamma-Rapho
BnF, Arts du spectacle
Evergreen Review, NY, Grove Press
© massin
BnF, Littérature et arts
Chanson autographe d’Édith Piaf
« si tu me quittais je te tuerais »
sur papier cahier, à l’encre bleue, 1963 ( ?)
BnF, Arts du spectacle
Raymond Voinquel
Edith Piaf, 1947
© Ministère de la Culture - Médiathèque du Patrimoine,
Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Raymond Voinquel
Édith Piaf dans une rue de Paris
Photographie parue dans Voila
© Voila, 1939, D.R.
BnF, Estampes et photographie
Étiquette du premier 78 tours enregistré par « la Môme Piaf »
en 1935 paru en 1936 Les mômes de la cloche
BnF, Audiovisuel
Programme de la salle Pleyel :
3 récitals d’Édith Piaf – mars 1950
BnF, Arts du spectacle
The collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France
are extremely rich in the field of performing arts, a
udiovisual, music – French ‘chansons’ particularly -,
iconography or press : a good opportunity to organize
this major exhibition about Edith Piaf, a figure of collective memory and popular culture and one of the
most famous French personalities in the world today.
The exhibition aims to examine Piaf myth and focus
on little-known aspects of the singer’s personality,
so proposing a new point of view about this artist,
exceptional in many respects.
The major part of pieces presented belongs to the Edith
Piaf collection donated by her last secretary, Danielle
Bonel, and housed at the Performing Arts Department.
Many iconographic documents originate from the
Department of Prints and Photography, sound documents from the Audiovisual Department and scores
from the Music Department.
Many pieces are lent by the Association of the Musée
d’Edith Piaf and the SACEM and an agreement concerning radio and television archives was signed with the
A universal audio-guide is available to
visitors so that they can listen to the 50
songs performed by Piaf or other singers as
well as to some thirty INA programmes and
film excerpts.
A karaoke box is also at their disposal in
case they wish to have a go at singing Piaf’s
Posters, letters, handwritten texts, records, objects,
numerous photographs and her good-luck little black
dress: over 400 pieces are on display, among which
never-presented before documents, not forgetting
film excerpts and songs – over fifty – proposed in the
The exhibition aims to discover or re-discover Edith Piaf’s life story but also to highlight her career
and posterity by putting them back in the context of the history of arts and mentalities. It also shows
how the singer became a legend.
A true ‘rockstar’ before the term existed, Piaf burnt the candle at both ends and still fascinates us
today; she even arouses a passionate interest among successive generations of singers who re-discover her repertoire regularly, doing covers of her songs, making films, television programmes or
music-hall shows about her.
The exhibition is divided in four major thematic sections and explores the various facets of the character – the ordinary woman, the singer, the lover, the legend -, illustrates and examines them. These
sections also implicitely refer to biographical elements that allow to re-construct Edith Piaf’s path:
Une femme du peuple (An ordinary woman), or the issue of birth; Une voix (A voice) focuses on the
development of her career; Hymne à l’amour (Hymn to love) gathers elements about her private life
and people around her; Piaf phénomène et légende (Piaf as a phenomenon and legend) deals with the
media wave that grabs the singer from the very beginning of her career and continues today.
An ordinary woman
The exhibition starts with the film, Si Versailles m’était conté, by Sacha Guitry (1954): Edith Piaf,
dressed in a revolutionary costume, sings the Carmagnole (Ah ça ira !) on the gate of the Château de
Versailles. The song, re-written for the artist, will be then added to her repertoire. At the peak of her
career, it seems that she has become a true national emblem in the tradition of 1789 and the best
incarnation of a nation of oppressed and outraged poor people.
The child of acrobats
Edith Piaf was born on December the 19th, 1915 in the popular 19th district of Paris. Her parents are
modest acrobats belonging to the proletariat of the world of performing arts. Her father, Louis Gassion, was an acrobat and contortionist; a grandfather, a circus rider, her aunts, acrobats or trapeze
artists; her grandmother on her mother’s side would have been a flea trainer… As for her mother,
Line Marsa, she was a modest realist singer.
Far from big Parisian and conventional circuses, this is the circle of small provincial travelling troupes
and street performances. The carpet rolled out on the pavement will remain an important memory for
Piaf who spent several years travelling with her father from town to town.
At his side, she starts singing, going round with the hat in cafés, barracks and outdoor areas. Later on,
she also mixes with circus artists doing short performances in variety shows. As a result, the circus
world is also very present in her repertory (Bravo pour le clown, Le Chemin des forains, On cherche
un Auguste).
Paris will always be Paris
After several roaming years, Edith Piaf is back in Paris in the late twenties. It is an emancipation
period; she leaves her agile father to stand on her own too feet, makes money doing odd jobs, forms
her trio to sing in barracks. Most of all, she sings in the streets of Paris, her first scenery, between
Belleville, Ménilmontant and Pigalle, with Simone Berteaut, a false half-sister and true evil genius who
leads her into spending time with disreputable acquaintances. From the 1940’s, Edith Piaf lives in the
smart district of Paris, near the Place de l’Etoile or boulevard Lannes; but she will never adopt
middle-class lifestyle.
Paris is very present in her first songs – especially Montmartre, Pigalle, bars and nightlife districts.
The realist repertoire involves prostitutes and louts living in the ‘zone’, namely in the suburbs (Entre
Saint-Ouen et Clignancourt). The singer is always on the side of the destitutes against the rich, as in
J’m’en fous pas mal, De l’autre côté de la rue or Les Amants d’un jour.
All these ordinary people to whom Piaf is very close are the other characters of the film Montmartresur-Seine (1941) in which she plays the part of Lily.
This facet of the character singing poverty and the lower classes of Paris contributed to creating links
with new generations of artists such as Les Négresses vertes, also originating from Belleville and with
the inhabitants of the 20th district where she is still very present: a place even bears her name there
and a plaque was placed onto the wall of the house where she was born, 72, rue de Belleville.
Then, Edith Piaf broadens her horizon, simply sings Paris and one more time, personifies the city on
the silver screen in Paris chante toujours. Les Amants de Paris, Sous le ciel de Paris, Marie la Française
are as many songs that contribute to building the image of the mythical capital city popular with tourists, rich of monuments, from Montmartre to Montparnasse; this is the eternal Paris photographed
by Willy Ronis or Robert Doisneau.
From popularity to celebrity
Piaf’s popularity is partly due to the image she has built during World War II. At the Liberation, her
neighbourly terms with the occupying forces are pushed in the background because of her commitment to soldiers: she appeared in barracks to sing the legionnaires ( Le Fanon de la légion, Où sont-ils
tous mes copains ? ). She takes part in charity galas in aid of the families of prisoners of war and visits
them in Germany. She even manages to overshadow the propagandist dimension of these operations
by showing a sincere compassion for the misfortune of French people during this period. An apolitical
citizen, she will never be considered as an opponent of the regime but she knows how to personify
the patriotism of ordinary people and be seen as the ‘Marianne’ of poor people.
Piaf also owes her popularity to the strong link she will keep all her life long with the general public;
the innumerable series of shows in Paris famous performance halls or in provincial cinemas and also
the radio contribute to creating this link. The numerous letters of admirers, the crowd of unknown
persons present at her wedding with Théo Sarapo and at her funeral, the thousands of fans she still
has today on her Facebook page show how strong this link was…
A voice
Only a street singer at the age of twenty, Edith Piaf is ten years later one of the most famous French
stars. First of all, her success is due to her voice
From street to stage
Piaf starts by singing realistic songs like her contemporaries and models, Damia, Fréhel, Marie Dubas
and even her mother, Line Marsa. The titles of these songs are Les Mômes de la cloche or Corrèqu’et
reguyer. The best songs cause a fierce competition between the performers. Piaf is the unknown girl
dragged out of the gutter, a ‘phenomenon’, a ‘raw skill and sincerity’ as depicted in contemporary
newspapers; her songs stick to her own fate and to the underworld where she moves in. She is only
twenty when she is ‘spotted’ by the owner of the Gerny’s cabaret, Louis Leplée. Jacques Canetti, who
works at Polydor and Radio-Cité, is also a great help when she starts; then, she is taken in hand by
Raymond Asso with whom she learns singing and good manners.
In the late thirties, she is a real professional working with her own songwriters – Raymond Asso, then
Michel Emer and Henri Contet – composers and musicians. She will even say: “ From now on, I will
not go and see composers at their place; they will come at mine ”. At that time, she sings at the ABC,
the Etoile-Palace, Bobino and in variety shows that also gather humorists such as Francis Blanche or
Jacques Tati, puppet-masters such as Jacques Chesnais, or other singers… Her repertoire remains
popular but is less realistic and more original as illustrated by L’Accordéoniste and Le Disque usé by
Michel Emer or Un coin de ciel bleu, written by herself in 1941.
In 1944, she passes the SACEM test which allows her to be officially recognized as a songwriter. Her
first composition, Il y a des amours (1940) is not performed by herself but by Mona Goya.
Making a song
Edith Piaf is a hard worker. Repertoire and interpretation: everything is subject to long work sessions.
So far as the repertoire is concerned, she abandons the vivid style of realistic songs she sang at the
beginning of her career; she even tries to mock herself in Pour qu’elle soit jolie ma chanson. She is
too humble to sing the poets’ texts and only sings Prévert’s. Piaf loves simple and everyday words
illustrating an intense emotional state. Her repertoire is popular in the broadest sense of the word.
She writes songs herself and offers certain songwriters to work for her. She is approached by others,
known or unknown: Henri Contet, Paul Misraki, Michel Rivgauche, Delécluse and Senlis… When she
sings, she pays particular attention to the diction, to make the words intelligible and clear. Then, she
commissions to her favourite composers to write music for her: Marguerite Monnot at the head of the
list but also Norbert Glanzberg, Henri Crolla, Louiguy, Gilbert Bécaud or Charles Dumont. Among her
songwriters, Michel Emer is an interesting figure. With him, she abandons the rythm of the popular
waltz for the waltz. She even tries her hand at blues and jazz (Je t’ai dans la peau) or rock (L’Homme à
la moto) pretty successfully; but not enough to change her style radically. She keeps singing with an
accordeonist and a pianist but does not sniff at orchestras with brass and violin sections and choirs.
As for her voice, it is powerful as a voice born in the street that had to be projected high between
the blocks of flats, a chest voice that she projects to the audience with very few gestures. Her pale
face offered to the audience and her hands against her black dress form a figure that will become
In 1948, Roland Barthes, then a young reader at the Bucharest French Institute, gives a very clearsighted lecture about Piaf’s passionnate nature. It is the first time that the manuscript of this lecture
is presented to the public: “ A major success; she personifies a huge tidal wave of a people wishing
to sing. ”, says Barthes.
“ The stage dress is ne varietur. I wore it the first time I sang at Bobino and even if it was repaired
many times, it hardly never changed. I do not want the audience to be distracted by my physical
appearance. ”
The one kept par Piaf at the end of her life and passed on to the BnF by Danielle Bonel is presented
at the centre of the exhibition while filmed testimonies analyze the vocal work, recordings, songwriting…
International success
After 1945, Piaf’s career takes on a new dimension. The most famous titles of her repertoire date
back to this period: La Vie en rose, Hymne à l’amour… She becomes an international star, makes long
stays in the United-States, gives an unforgettable performance at Carnegie Hall. Louis Barrier, her
manager, plans her variety shows and tours. She is remarkably popular. In France, she builds a privileged relationship with Bruno Coquatrix, Director of the Olympia and even saves the performance
hall from bankruptcy. It is the place where she performs her last show in 1962. Numerous private
documents such as memo cards to introduce her songs in a foreign language or lists of songs are
presented for the first time. Like the photographic report about a tour in Angers, they illustrate her
intense work and huge success.
Hymn to love
Love torments prey on Piaf’s repertoire and life. Men, on stage and off, are omnipresent in her songs.
In short, Piaf invites us to follow the red thread of a history of love.
Love songs
The major part of Piaf’s repertoire is made of love songs that first seem to crystallize a specific period
in the history of love; a time when masculinity dominates and fascinates but finds a guarantee in
kisses, rows and songs. It is the circle of tough guys and submissive women in the tradition of realistic songs. Pimps of the ‘Totor’ sort, their protégées and Pigalle are never far (Les Mômes de la cloche,
Corrèqu’et réguyer, Elle fréquentait la rue Pigalle). The songs openly refer to physical love that nourishes the dreams of those who look back nostalgically to the ‘zone’ and keeps them in a relationship
of submission (J’suis mordue). Physical love is the treasure of the poor. Piaf sings: « In my opinion,
society people do not know how to make love » (Entre Saint-Ouen et Clignancourt). The same theme is
approached in a more sentimental manner in De l’autre coté de la rue (1945). Since beside brutal men,
there are also tender and sad good-lookers, either sailors or soldiers (L’Etranger, Mon légionnaire…).
Gradually, the circle of illicit love affairs gives way to the tragic exalting of feelings which is closely
akin to Piaf’s private life (La Vie en rose, Hymne à l’amour, Les Amants d’un jour). New themes such
as separations, reunions and even some sort of claiming for female independence (Le droit d’aimer)
are also approached in her repertoire. The story ends with A quoi ça sert l’amour that she sings with
Théo Sarapo, her last husband.
Lovers and songs
Piaf had many lovers who were simple workers, sportsmen and for the major part of them, actors,
songwriters, composers or singers as she was: Jean Dréjac, Eddie Constantine… Paradoxically, she
loved them both as a free and as a submissive woman. Naïvely sentimental one day and a tyrant
the day after. She even opens her heart with a moving sincerity in letters to her lovers or to Jacques
Bourgeat, her confidant. Tragic events even deepen the exacerbation of feelings; the death of Marcel
Cerdan of course in 1949, but also even to a lesser extent, the one of Douglas Davis, in the same
circumstances. During the war, she is not the protegée any more but the patron of young artists. She
is first both a Pygmalion and a manager for Paul Meurisse and most of all for Yves Montand, then
for many others such as les Compagnons de la chanson, Jacques Pills, Charles Aznavour, Georges
Moustaki or Félix Marten. They all share the stage with her and benefit from her fame, which accelerates their success. Piaf takes an interest to every detail: lights, orchestration, programmes, stage
costumes and repertoire since she even writes songs for them. A strange link between 19th century
corseted women and sexual liberation of the sixties, in tune with the carefree ‘Années folles’, she
favours ‘cohabitation’ for a long time and does not care about what people might say. She eventually
yields to a conventional wedding with Jacques Pills whom she divorces for the somewhat scandalous
marriage with Théo Sarapo, many years younger than herself.
Piaf tribe
There are not only lovers around Piaf. There are numerous friends, friends of friends, occasional
visitors, employees. They all help her to fight against loneliness and meet for dinner to share joyful
moments and sing at her place. The boundary is porous between the various types of relationships.
Charles Aznavour, who was not one of Piaf’s lovers, talks about a form of ‘tender friendship’ that
bound him to her. Among her close relations, there is also Jacques Bourgeat, a scholar who regularly
visited the Bibliothèque Nationale and her confidant since 1936; he donated to the BnF all the letters
sent by his ‘Piafou’. There are also Danielle and Marc Bobel, her accordionist, her most reliable supports from the Fifties and until her death. They also donated to the BnF the precious keepsakes they
had kept, among which the good luck little black dress.
My God ! My God !
Since childhood, Edith Piaf believes in Sainte-Thérèse of Lisieux to whom she will remain faithful all
her life long. She always travels with her cross, medals and statuettes. The same ritual comes before
her stage entrance and her performances have often to do with liturgy and prayer. This behaviour
will even drift towards spiritualism (she does table-turning to establish contact with the beyond and
Marcel Cerdan), astrology, superstition, palmistry and the joining to the Rosicrucian movement.
After her death, the singer herself will become a saint crowned with light as shown in a filmed excerpt
of Marguerite Duras’ play, Savannah Bay, broadcast in the exhibition.
Piaf, a phenomenom and a legend
Very early, Edith Piaf’s life was given a lot of media coverage, which contributed to making her life a
legend. Records, radio, television, press, magazines, photography, cinema, theatre: she is made an
icon of whom the face and voice are everywhere. And the myth is still alive today.
A recording star
At the beginning of Piaf’s career, printed scores of songs were available to the public. These ‘smallsize songs’ were particularly sold during the shows and anyone could afford them. As soon as the
early Thirties, they are seriously threatened by records and the radio. Piaf meets both of them at
the same moment. The meeting takes place during the autumn of 1935 and owes much to Jacques
Canetti. A few weeks after her show at the Gerny’s, the ‘Môme Piaf’ – a name given to her by Louis
Leplée, the cabaret’s owner – is invited to sing on Radio-Cité, a radio of which Jacques Canetti is
the Artistic Director. Then, she makes her first recording at Polydor of which he is the producer. The
record company soon considers her as the artist to promote as illustrated by the numerous catalogues and posters disseminated at that time.
She is one of the first recording stars, learns how to use a microphone. In cafés and stations, one can
listen to her songs thanks to an autophone, the father of the jukebox.
The adventure continues with Columbia which becames her record company in 1946, except for a
short moment at Decca-Belgique, from 1947 to 1948.
After her death, her records keep being disseminated everywhere, including in places where she
never sang when she was alive, in Eastern countries, in Asia… Then, the birth of the CD favours the
creation of numerous boxes and the publication of several copies of complete works.
Conquering the media
The radio also captures a vast audience. Edith Piaf participates in programmes of the French radio,
Radio-Luxembourg, the Radio suisse romande and the recently created radio, Europe 1. She is both
seen in concert broadcasts and radio programmes during which she sings a few songs. It is in the studio where the Music hall de Paris programme is being recorded that she meets Charles Aznavour for
the first time. In continuity with variety radio programmes, Piaf participates in television programmes
from the early days of television; these programmes, such as Télé-Paris or La Joie de vivre hosted by
Henri Spade are sometimes considered in bad taste and not justified by cultured circles. She also
answers the questions of famous interviewers such as Pierre Desgraupes or Pierre Tchernia.
When she is on tour in the United-States, Piaf is often on CBS set for the Ed Sullivan Show; this kind
of programmes contributes to increasing her celebrity all the more since radio and television programmes are opportunities for collective moments in cafés or at home, with family members and
The press has also always followed Piaf’s career. Hundreds of pages comment her variety shows
or cinematographic performances; the gutter (Détective, France Dimanche, ici Paris) and popular
press (Paris Match for example) and magazines, among which romance magazines, echo her private
life more or less faithfully. Little by little, she becomes a mythical figure whose life is constantly
scrutinized. The singer’s physical aspect also caught the eye of photographers. Photo agencies and
paparazzi captured her image as soon as the murder of her patron Louis Leplée, a cabaret manager,
in 1936 and they will follow her until her death. Piaf goes along with the revelation of her private life
and even agrees that reporters settle permanently at home.
Said to be not very photogenic, she however inspired famous photographers such as Jean-Gabriel*
Séruzier, Alexander Bender or Raymond Voinckel when she was young…
The character beyond the person
The street singer’s figure also inspired cinema and theatre fictional characters, often inspired by her
own life. As early as 1936, Piaf plays a small part in La Garçonne; yet, her cinema career really starts
during the war with such films as Montmartre sur Seine, Etoile sans lumière by Marcel Blistène –
certainly the most interesting part she played – or Les Amants de demain. In theatre, Jean Cocteau
writes for her Le bel Indifférent in 1940; then, she plays in La P’tite Lili by Marcel Achard, directed by
Raymond Rouleau in 1951.
Beyond Piaf’s songs, her character still haunts the imaginations today: innumerable books – biographies, memory books, letters, albums, catalogues – special issues, radio and television programmes,
exhibitions are dedicated to her. Her facebook page is followed by thousands of fans. As for cinema,
after Edith by Guy Casaril in 1974 and Edith et Marcel by Claude lelouch in 1982, La Môme was the
triumph of year 2007, with 5 million tickets sold in France, 5 César (French film awards) and two
The exhibition ends with a flashback showing Piaf at the beginning of her career, pulling a sullen face
and whispering to visitors her philosophy of life, ‘ J’m’en fous pas mal ’, like a last mockery.
The scenography realized by Je formule Agency provides each section of the exhibition with a special
A red curtain marks the entrance of the gallery. In the first part (An ordinary woman), picture rails and supports for texts or images, presented in four sets of showcases, fit into each other like the various elements
of a jigsaw. Colours vary from grey to blue to evoke the streets’ atmosphere. As the main section of the
exhibition, the second part (A voice) offers a wonderful showcase for the little black dress: this key piece
is surrounded by showcases forming an arc and orienting visitors through the exhibition. Wrapped in red,
this section is inspired by the standards of show-business and music-hall (colours, curtains, lights…) and
ends with the karaoke box.
The next section, Hymn to love, conveys a more intimist feeling. Some big lanterns house mobiles made of
words and images. The majority of picture rails and furniture elements are pink.
The last part (A legend) is based on the accumulation principle. Objects, photographs, reproductions mix
in midnight blue cubic structures enhanced by golden ornaments.
The dynamic organization of space around a core area evokes the hurly-burly of Piaf’s life whilst the path
hides and discloses the various facets of the singer’s life.
Some of the most outstanding pieces
on display…
Edith Piaf’s personal belongings
• The famous black dress she wore on stage, donated by her secretary and friend Danielle Bonel
• The vanity case she took with her during tours; it contains a photograph of her closest friends and
two pious statuettes (the Virgin and Saint Rita), symbols of her faith, donated by Danielle Bonel
• Marcel Cerdan’s boxing gloves, lent by the Association des Amis d’Edith Piaf
Never-presented before manuscripts
• The English translation of Milord song in Piaf’s handwriting, her typed out cards in English and
Spanish which allowed her to introduce her songs during tours in foreign countries
• The letters sent by Edith Piaf to her confidant Jacques Bourgeat, namely over one hundred letters
• The autograph letters sent by Piaf to Charles Aznavour, Michel Simon, Bruno Coquatrix, Raymond
Asso, Félix Marten, Douglas Davis, Charles Dumont…
• A never-presented before text by Roland Barthes about Edith Piaf and Yves Montand intended to a
lecture held in Bucharest in May 1948.
• A collection of pieces never-presented before and lended by the SACEM (membership form declaring Piaf as an author, notification of songs among which L’Accordéoniste…)
• A selection of letters by admirers showing the affection and fascination of the audience for the artist
• One of the six matrices of Polydor records never presented before 2003
• The first record of Piaf’s songs produced by Polydor in 1936, containing Les Mômes de la cloche and
• Rare copies of pressings made in foreign countries (Spanish, Russian, Indian…) illustrating the
major influence of her work abroad during 70 years
• The most beautiful posters of Piaf’s record companies (Polydor, Columbia) illustrated by Charles
Kiffer, Claire Finel or Gaston Girbal
• An autophon from the Charles Cros collection, a father of the jukebox that could be found in cafés
in the Thirties.
• A selection of six portraits of Edith Piaf in 1937 by photographer Jean-Gabriel Séruzier
• A selection of 24 photographs taken by photographer Roger Parry during a tour in Angers in
• A never-presented before portrait of Piaf with Bruno Coquatrix in 1956 by photographer Franck
And thanks to the outstanding lending made by Marion Cotillard, the Oscar and the Cesar received
by the actress in 2008 for her role in La Môme by Olivier Dahan.
Songs and videos
Songs to be listened to in the exhibition
Songs sung by Edith Piaf :
Le chemin des forains - Bravo pour le clown ! - Entre Saint-Ouen et Clignancourt - Paris
Où sont-ils tous mes copains - La foule - Corrèqu’ et rguyer - Les mômes de la cloche
C’est toi le plus fort - Browning - C’est la moindre des choses - La fille de joie est triste
(1ère version) - L’accordéoniste (2ème version) - One little man – Les mots d’amour - Les amants d’un
jour - Le droit d’aimer - Mon légionnaire - Hymne à l’amour - L’homme à la moto - J’t’ai dans la peau
Milord - Non je ne regrette rien - Mon vieux Lucien (version Olympia 61) - Mon Dieu - L’étranger - Je ne
veux plus laver la vaisselle - Mon manège à moi - La vie en rose - J’m’en fous pas mal
An extract of a play
Le bel indifférent de Jean Cocteau
Songs sung by other artists
Comme un moineau, Fréhel
J’ai le cafard, Damia
Le tango stupéfiant, Marie Dubas
Le chaland qui passe, Lys Gauty
La vie en rose, (à la trompette puis en anglais), Louis Armstrong
Non je ne regrette rien, Les Garçons Bouchers
Un monsieur me suit dans la rue, Juliette
Padam… Padam, Ute Lemper
Non je ne regrette rien, Cheb Mami
Les amants d’un jour, Bashung
L’homme à moto, Brigitte Fontaine
Les trois cloches / While the Angelus Was Ringing (en anglais), Frank Sinatra
La Foule / Gunshû (en japonais), Akihiro Miwa
Jezebel (en anglais), Anna Calvi
A une chanteuse morte, Léo Ferré
La grande cité, Yves Montand
Plus bleu que tes yeux, duo virtuel entre Charles Aznavour et Édith Piaf
A classic piece of music
Hommage à Édith Piaf, Improvisation n°15 en do min, Francis Poulenc ; Pascal Rogé, piano
Videos to be seen in the exhibition
Musical videos
Mon légionnaire, Serge Gainsbourg
La vie en rose, Grace Jones
La fille et le chien, Catherine Ringer
Mon manège à moi, Etienne Daho
Hymne à l’amour, Patricia Kaas
Non je ne regrette rien, Cut Killer
Extracts of movies
Étoile sans lumières, de Marcel Blistène
Paris chante toujours, de Pierre Montazel
Montmartre-sur-Seine, de Georges Lacombe
Boum sur Paris, de Maurice de Canonge
La Môme, de Olivier Dahan
and emissions
Aujourd’hui Madame, La Joie de vivre, Cinq colonnes à la une, Ed Sullivan show, Actualités Pathé.
Under the direction of
Joël Huthwohl
192 pages, 200 illustrations
Price : 39 euros
Éditions de la BnF
« C’est fou c’que j’peux t’aimer…”
A few bars, a few words of Edith Piaf’s songs are enough to bring the ritornello back to our minds. Her
voice, her repertoire, the story of her life contributed to turning the small street singer into one of the
major figures of French popular culture. The anniversary of her birth or death is always an opportunity
to revive the memory of Piaf and her great emotional power works inevitably.
The legend revisited
The BnF pays tribute to this international icon now part of our collective memory: the daughter of
travelling performers and a symbol of the French people; a singer with an outstanding career; a passionate lover enjoying laughs tirelessly; a true legend. The various papers of this book admirably mix
biographical elements and analysis. Written by famous authors, either journalists or academics, they
offer the readers the opportunity to understand who Edith Piaf really was and how her name went
down in history.
Outstanding documents never-presented before
The rich and varied iconography of this work – nearly 200 documents – originates in the collections
of the BnF, an often unknown wealth in the field of popular culture: photographs, posters, record
sleeves, magazines. Jacques Bourgeat (Piaf’s confidant) and the Bonel spouses (respectively her
accordionist and secretary) also entrusted their archives to the institution’s care. These documents
can be found in the catalogue.
A large variety of pieces illustrates the affection and fascination of the public for the artist: mail,
notes, memorabilia, key pieces such as the famous little black dress, autograph letters by Charles
Aznavour, Pierre Brasseur, Michel Simon… or letters sent to Piaf by her admirers. The most beautiful
posters of Piaf’s record companies (Polydor, Columbia) illustrated by Charles Kiffer, Claire Finel or
Gaston Girbal are also presented as well as the portrait of Piaf made by photographer Franck Horvat,
in 1956. This moving portrait, showing the artist with her hand on the shoulder of Bruno Coquatrix,
was never-presented before.
In the context of the exhibition
Free entrance
Large auditorium
May the 19th, 2015 – 6.30 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Concert exceptionnel PIAF Exceptional PIAF concert
by Amandine Bourgeois
When a major artist of the new French musical scene reinterprets Piaf…
Globes’ Hall
May the 20th, 2015 – 9 p.m. – 11 p.m. (following an evening opening of the exhibition)
Piaf Remix concert
DJ Claude Challe remixes the most famous songs of Piaf
Large auditorium
May the 12th - 6.30 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Theatre – Piaf/Cocteau
Le Bel indifférent and Le Fantôme de Marseille
directed by Razerka Ben Sadia-Lavant
with Dominique Reymond, actress, and Gaspard Claus, cellist
2 plays written by Jean Cocteau for Edith Piaf
Guided tours in French and English on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 3 p.m.
Duration : 1hour and a half
Price : 9 euros (exhibition ticket + 3 euros (guided tours)
Exhibition path for children (8/12 years old) : free of charge, available at the entrance of the
exhibition and downloadable on bnf.fr
Off-site path through Paris ‘In the footsteps of Edith Piaf’
Free of charge, available at the entrance of the exhibition and downloadable on bnf.fr
Registration : 00 33 (1) 53 79 49 49 or [email protected]
La Caisse d’Epargne Ile-de-France
mécène de l’exposition PIAF à la BnF
La Caisse d’Epargne Ile-de-France soutient de nombreux projets de mécénat au cœur de ses
territoires. Sa politique de mécénat poursuit trois axes principaux : soutenir l’accès à la culture
du plus grand nombre, lutter contre les exclusions, et favoriser l’accessibilité des personnes en
situation de handicap. La Caisse d’Epargne Ile-de-France est fière de soutenir l’exposition que
consacre la BnF à Edith Piaf, devenue une figure majeure de la culture populaire française.
Le mécénat de la Caisse d’Epargne Ile-de-France s’inscrit dans la durée, elle a été distinguée
Grand mécène de la Culture par le ministère de la Culture et de la Communication.
La Caisse d’Epargne Ile-de-France
La Caisse d’Epargne Ile-de-France est au service de sa région où elle accompagne toutes les
clientèles : particuliers, professionnels, entreprises, acteurs de l’économie sociale, institutions
et collectivités locales avec son réseau de 450 agences. C’est la plus importante des 17 Caisses
d’Epargne avec 3,4 millions de clients dont 650 000 sociétaires. Son Produit Net Bancaire en 2013
s’est élevé à 891 millions d’euros et son résultat net à 100 millions d’euros. Elle compte 4 800
collaborateurs et présente pour 2013 un total de bilan consolidé de 56 milliards d’euros. Créée en
1818, c’est la première Caisse d’Epargne de l’histoire.
Contacts Presse
Thomas LEVET, Directeur Communication, Vie Coopérative et Mécénat
Tél. : 01 58 06 64 16, [email protected]
Valérie ROQUES, Responsable Mécénat
Tél. : 01 58 06 64 34, [email protected]