In the early years of the century the poet Max Jacob gave this name to a strange conglomeration of artists' studios in Montmartre, at the top of the steps leading to No. 13 Rue Ravignan. They were situated in a modestly shaded square which later took the name of the singer Émile Goudeau. It was a gloomy heap of dark and dirty premises made of beams and planks that had all the appearance of scrap. On stormy days they swayed and creaked so dangerously on their uncertain foundations that they reminded one of the washing-boats on the Seine -- hence the name. There are all sorts of conjectures as to the origins of the Bateau-Lavoir. It has even been suggested that it was once a factory. In any case, the painter Maufra appears to have been its first artistic tenant, about 1890. When Van Dongen, and later Picasso, came to live there, that is to say between 1900 and 1904, the tenants included a costermonger, a washerwoman, and a restorer of old pictures, a solemn gentleman with a white beard who was introduced to the Douanier Rousseau as the Minister of Fine Arts, on the occasion of the famous banquet given for him by Picasso in 1908 in his studio. The Douanier presided over the banquet, while poems and speeches extolled him in uproarious though kindly vein. The Douanier sang some compositions of his own, and played the violin. That was the occasion when, a little intoxicated by so much unaccustomed attention, he confided to Picasso: 'Actually, you and I are the two greatest painters: I in the modern genre, you in the Egyptian'. The function ended with everyone drunk, but it was certainly the most wonderful day in the life of the pathetic Douanier.
Beginning in 1904, there was a change in the social status of the tenants of the place. Little by little, writers and artists began to take it over. Among those who came to live there, at one time or another, were Pierre MacOrlan, Juan Gris, André Salmon, Gargallo, Max Jacob and Pierre Reverdy. It became a kind of club that soon had its habitués -- artists like Matisse, Braque, Derain, Dufy, Marie Laurencin, Modigliani, Laurens, Utrillo, Lipchitz, Maria Blanchard, Metzinger, Marcoussis; poets and writers like Apollinaire, Jarry, Cocteau, Coquiot, Cremnitz, Paul Fort, Warnod, Radiguet, Gertrude Stein; actors like Dullin, Harry Baur, Gaston Modot; and dealers like Vollard, Sagot, Kahnweiler and Berthe Weil; not to mention inquisitive strangers. It was with this outstanding group that Picasso first discussed Cubism. From 1908 on, daily discussions took place, either in the studios of Picasso or Juan Gris or in the neighbouring cafés, with a passion that never abated. The new aesthetic doctrine slowly took shape around Picasso in the course of discussions that went on night and day between Braque, Derain, Gris, Marcoussis and Metzinger, joined later by Apollinaire, Raynal and the mathematician Princet. It goes without saying that the relations between so many different kinds of temperament were not always idyllic, but the history of art certainly knew, then, some of its greatest moments.
When war broke out in 1914 painters left the Bateau-Lavoir and Montmartre for more comfortable lodgings.