Monday, January 5, 2009
Opium Dens and Opium Museums
Via Thomas Crampton’s blog I was alerted to the Opium Museum online – a nice resource. Steven Martin, the author of The Art of Opium Antiques, runs the site which has a lot of good photos and text – Martin’s emphasis is on the attractiveness of the paraphernalia. He also makes some useful brief comments on opium use in Europe.
As I’ve been working on a few things around opium use and image in Europe in late nineteenth century I’m interested to note that Martin writes that, ‘Only in France did opium smoking take hold in Europe, and Brassaï captured images of opium dens in his famous photographic studies of Parisian nightlife (his self portrait in an opium den is left). The existence of opium smoking in London was, and continues to be, highly exaggerated. The complete lack of photographic evidence of opium smoking in London strongly suggests that tales of posh debauchery in London's Limehouse district are nothing more than literary fantasy.’
I think he’s basically right about Limehouse which was more written and gossiped about by the toffs than visited though it is the case that a number of local East Enders did enjoy the drug – up until at least the early 1980s there were a number of old people (mostly old Cockney ladies) who were registered by the NHS to use opium and still smoked it through the traditional pipes.
PS: picture at the topis the cover of Le Petit Journal, 5 July 1903 entitled "A New Vice: Opium Dens in France"