Visiting the Tribunaux Café, Dieppe, France: historic hub for artists and writers
Focal point for urbane, 19th century personalities
Over the years, this establishment in Downtown Dieppe, France, became a hub for writers and artists. The building which houses the Café des Tribunaux dates from the 18th century, before the days of the significant beginnings of tourism. However, particularly in the mid- to late-19th century, many French and English tourists would come to Dieppe in large numbers, and the Café des Tribunaux became popular place for social gatherings.
It is a half-timbered structure, with a small belfry, and is situated at both a strategic and picturesque junction of pedestrianized streets which are among the busiest in the town. One road is Grande rue , the other is place du Puits-Salé (Salty well street). This last name is in reference to a well which stands in front of the Café , recalling past difficulties in obtaining fresh water for the townspeople.
Artists who have visited the Café des Tribunaux include: Walter Sickert (1860-1942), whose 1890 painting of the Café hangs in the National Gallery of Canada; artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) is also known to have visited the Café . Others also reckoned to have been visitors are writers Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956); other visitors are thought to have included Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) as a young man, Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury (1830-1903), the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII (1841-1910); (1).
I cannot honestly remember whether I had given up coffee when, on more than one occasion, I stopped at the Café des Tribunaux , so I cannot report whether I took tea or coffee at the Café ! But for those who repair to the Café even today, it is easy to imagine prominent people in the 19th century, some of them yet to achieve fame, causing an impression upon the writers and artists who would regularly meet there. Indeed, the words of Wilde's character Sir Robert Chiltern, in his An Ideal Husband come to mind, speaking of the character Baron Arnheim: 'With that wonderfully fascinating quiet voice of his he expounded to us the most terrible of philosophies, the philosophy of power, preached to us the most marvellous of gospels, the gospel of gold. ... he led me through his wonderful picture gallery, showed me his tapestries, his enamels, his jewels, his carved ivories, made me wonder at the strange loveliness of the luxury in which he lived; and then told me that luxury was nothing but a background, a painted scene in a play, and that power, power over other men, power over the world, was the one thing worth having, the one supreme pleasure worth knowing, the one joy one never tired of ...' (1) One can only wonder if the writer experienced similar speculations about the transient and questionable basis of the motivations of some prominent, political leaders, with whom he may have socialized, at the Café and at other, similar establishments.
The Café des Tribunaux is situated at 1, place du Puits-Salé, Dieppe, in France's Seine-Maritime department.
(1) Lord Salisbury is said to have refused to attend divine worship at the local Anglican church in Dieppe, frequented by some of the English colony there, if the Prince of Wales was expected to be among the congregation.
(2) Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband , London: Methuen, 1912, p. p. 82-83
Also worth seeing
In Dieppe itself, the enormous church of St. Jacques is Medieval in origin, as is the clifftop castle, overlooking the beaches with their tragic, 1942 Dieppe Raid associations.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Dieppe : 214 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains a service between Paris (Gare Saint-Lazare ) and Dieppe. You are advised check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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