With our visual style borrowing heavily from Art Nouveau, psychedelic design and the darker side of Romanticism, there is one shadowy and mysterious group of writers and artists that we find fascinating. This group of men shut themselves away in a run-down hotel in Paris and regularly took part in long drug-induced reveries, with the intention of shedding some light on the effects of hashish on the intellectual mind. Their story is bizarre and incredible. All the more so as it took place in the 1840s.
Having been introduced to hashish in the Orient, sometime between 1836 and 1840, French psychiatrist Jacques-Joseph Moreau became interested in its effects and their similarity to psychosis. To further his understanding in this area, he gathered some of the leading French painters, poets and playwrights of the day with the intention of observing them while they were under the influence of the drug. It was 1844 and ‘Le Club des Hashischins’ was born.
The group would regularly gather at the Pimodan House on the Ile Saint-Louis and, once in their gothic inner sanctum, would consume quantities of dawamesk, a green paste of orange juice, herbs, spices and hashish. What followed would later inspire poet Charles Baudelaire to write ‘Le Fleurs du Mal’ and move Theophile Gautier to publish an essay ('Le Club des Hashischins’), which describes the whole fantastical scene. A few excerpts are below.
“To enter was to step two centuries back; time, which passes so fast, seemed not to have elapsed in this house, and like a clock negligently left unwound, its hands showed the same date always.
The walls, paneled in white-painted wood, were half-covered with darkened canvases that bore the stamp of the period. On a gigantic mantelpiece rose a statue that one might suppose to have been pilfered from the Versailles gardens.
On the ceiling, which arched into a dome, writhed a sprawling allegory painted with broad strokes, in the manner of Lemoine, which might have been by that painter.”
“The doctor’s face beamed with enthusiasm, his eyes sparkled his cheeks reddened, the veins in his temples stood out and his dilated nostrils drew in the air with force.
“This will be subtracted from your share in Paradise,” said he, handing me my allotted dose.
When each had eaten his portion, coffee was served in the Arab manner, that is, with the grounds and without sugar.”
“One, with a pale face in a black beard, was in peals of laughter before some unseen spectacle; another made unbelievable efforts to carry his glass to his lips, while his contortions to achieve his purpose produced a roar of jeers.
Another, in nervous agitation, twiddled his thumbs with incredible agility; yet another, thrown back in his chair, with dreamy eyes and lifeless arms, voluptuously let himself glide into the bottomless sea of oblivion.”
“The marble is gaining ground! The marble is gaining ground!”
To be sure, I could feel my limbs petrifying, and the marble enveloping me to the waist like the Tuileries’ Daphne; I was a statue halfway up, like the enchanted princes in the Arabian Nights. My hardened heels rang out formidably against the floor; I could have played the Commander in Don Giovanni.
By this time I had reached the head of the stairs, which I undertook to descend; they were half-lit, and through my dream they took on Cyclopean, gigantic proportions. Their two ends, bathed in shadow, seemed to plunge into heaven and hell, both of them abysses; raising my head, I indistinctly discerned, in a prodigious perspective, countless superposed landings, ramps leading up as to the top of the tower of Lylacq; looking down, I felt the presence of abysses of steps, whorls of spirals, dazzling circumvolutions.
This staircase must pierce the earth through and through, said I to myself as I continued my mechanical walking. I shall reach the bottom the day after Judgement Day.”