Alphonse Allais

Alphonse Allais

French journalist, writer and eccentric humorist, known for his sharp tongue and absurdist antics
Date of Birth: 20.10.1854
Country: France

  1. Biography of Alphonse Allais
  2. Early Life and Career
  3. Later Life and Legacy

Biography of Alphonse Allais

Alphonse Allais, a French journalist, writer, and eccentric humorist, was known for his sharp wit and absurd antics. He was considered a precursor to the provocative exhibitions of the Dadaists and Surrealists of the 1910s and 1920s. Allais was also recognized as a "secret" pioneer of conceptualism and minimalism, having created a work similar to Kazimir Malevich's famous "Black Square" a quarter of a century before him and unexpectedly prefiguring John Cage's minimalist musical piece "4'33" by fifty-five years.

Alphonse Allais

Early Life and Career

Alphonse Allais was born on October 20, 1854, in Honfleur, a small town on the coast of the English Channel. He often reminisced about his beloved Honfleur, describing it as "unbearably hot for such a small town." Twelve years later, a composer and writer named Erik Satie was born just a few steps away from Allais' birthplace. Both Allais and Satie attended the same college under the guidance of director Arthur Boudin, from which they carried unpleasant memories of their educational years and the people who "taught" them.

After completing his education and earning the title of bachelor by the age of seventeen, Allais joined his father's pharmacy in Honfleur as an assistant or intern. Being an assistant in his own father's pharmacy was a good start to his career. His father had envisioned a future for Allais as a great chemist or pharmacist, and Allais lived up to his expectations. He became more than a chemist and delved deeper into the field of pharmacy. Even in the early days of his career at the family pharmacy, Allais showed great promise. He conducted daring experiments on patients with his original placebo formulations, synthesized counterfeit medicines, and even made some remarkably interesting diagnoses. He would later delightfully recount these small triumphs in his fairy tale, "The Heights of Darwinism."

Recognizing his son's initial success in the field of pharmacy, Allais' father sent him to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life. Allais occasionally returned to Honfleur, often accompanied by Erik Satie and usually in need of money, which his family always measured out to him on the pharmacy scales. Allais once remarked, "It's a shame my father wasn't a butcher." His father arranged for him to intern at a pharmacy owned by a close acquaintance. Years later, it was revealed that this pharmacy was actually a privileged Masonic cabaret called the "Black Cat," where Allais continued to compose his own recipes and treat the sick. He pursued this esteemed profession almost until the end of his life. His friendship with Charles Cros, the famous inventor of the phonograph, could have led him back to scientific research, but those plans never came to fruition. Allais' fundamental scientific works, although less well-known today than the man himself, made significant contributions to the field. He published serious research on color photography, as well as an extensive study on rubber synthesis and extraction. Furthermore, he obtained a patent for his own recipe for preparing freeze-dried coffee.

Later Life and Legacy

At the age of 41, Allais married Marguerite Allais in 1895. The young couple settled in Paris, specifically at 7 Edouard Detaille Street. It is worth noting that Allais' museum, which its organizers claim to be "the smallest in the world," is not located at this address but instead in an authentic Parisian room where Allais never lived, ate, slept, or could even visit.

Allais passed away in a room at the Britannia Hotel on Rue Amsterdam, near the Austin-Fox Cafe, where he spent much of his free time. The doctor had strictly prescribed him six months of bed rest, the only way he would have a chance at recovery. Otherwise, death was inevitable. As soon as the doctor left, Allais quickly got up and spent the evening at a restaurant. On the way back to the hotel, he told his friend his final joke: "Keep in mind, tomorrow I will be dead! You will find it amusing, but I won't be able to laugh with you anymore. So, tomorrow, I will be dead!" True to his last witty remark, he passed away the next day, on October 28, 1905.

Allais was buried in the Saint-Ouen cemetery in Paris. However, in April 1944, his grave was completely destroyed by friendly bombs from Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces. In 2005, the imaginary remains of Alphonse Allais were ceremoniously and pompously transferred to the "summit" of Montmartre. After World War II, the Association of Absolute Apologists of Alphonse Allais (A.A.A.A.A.) was established in France and remains active to this day. This devoted group of enthusiasts values Allais' humor above all else. The A.A.A.A.A. has its own legal address, bank account, and headquarters in the "Smallest Museum of Alphonse Allais" on Upper Street in Honfleur, where Allais was born.

Every Saturday evening, the Alphonse Allais museum is open to the public for free. Visitors can enjoy Allais-style laboratory experiments, chemical tastings, diagnoses, affordable but highly effective stomach tablets called "Pure Allais," and even make a direct call on the old-fashioned telephone labeled "Allo, Allais." All of these services can be experienced in half an hour within the dimly lit surroundings of Allais' birthplace pharmacy in Honfleur. This extremely narrow space has also been declared the smallest museum in the world, surpassing even the smallest museums of the "authentic room" of Alphonse Allais in Paris and the "Wardrobe of Erik Satie" at the French Ministry of Culture. These three smallest museums in the world compete for the title of being the smallest.

For many years, Allais has been accompanied on his museum tours by a man named Jean-Yves Lorio, who constantly carries an official document confirming that he is the unauthorized reincarnation of the great humorist, Alphonse Allais.