Charles Aumont

French theatrical entrepreneur working in Russia

'Charles Aumont' was the stage name of Charles Solomon, a French citizen from Algeria, who from October 1891 to 1901 rented several sites in the centre of Moscow for his Théâtre Concerto Parisienne enterprise (which successfully toured throughout Russia as well). The interiors were gorgeously decorated and deeply impressed visitors with this display of French luxury. Aumont's artistic troupe was highly professional and held in great esteem in professional circles. All of his actors were proud to participate in its shows while it opened doors to any other theatrical enterprise in Russia. Behind the front doors of Aumont's theatre was hidden its real purpose: for many years it was well-known as a fashionable brothel. Aumont's theatre was the permanent object of sharp criticism of the defenders of public morals. Stanislavsky, for example, called it a 'den of lewdness' and called for its immediate closure. Ironically, the founders of the Moscow Art Theatre inherited Aumont's concert hall in Kamergersky Lane, but totally renovated it, trying to obliterate its noxious influence.

In 1896 Aumont first introduced the Lumière Cinématographe as an attraction, and it was at an Aumont café-concert at the All-Russian Fair of Industry and Art in Nizhny-Novogorod, opening on 22 June 1896, that an educated and influential Russian audience first saw moving pictures, in circumstances that were inevitably controversial. Despite the atmosphere of debauchery, however, many 'respectable' people felt obliged to satisfy their curiosity at the new phenomenon. Among the visitors was Maxim Gorky, who wrote a famous account of his visit to Aumont's film programme and later, on learning of the attempted suicide of one of Aumont's girls, Lily Darteau, wrote a short story in which a prostitute kills herself after witnessing the unattainable domestic happiness evident in the Lumière film Repas de Bébé. Aumont continued to organise film shows as part of his package of entertainments, before quitting his business in 1901. In 1907 Aumont was due to be prosecuted for embezzlement but, it was discovered, had sold all his property and left the country.

Rashit Yangirov / Luke McKernan