The art and bohemian lifestyle have always been akin. Fully immersed in creativity, famous bohemian artists defined art as their religion and saw themselves as a non-conformists opposed to the conventions of bourgeois society - drifters, visionaries or madmen possessed by inspiration. The term ‘bohemians’ initially referred to Romani people who were perceived as outsiders from conventional society untroubled by its disapproval. This connotation rapidly became a romantic one, and it started being used to describe non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, musicians and actors in 19th century Paris. With unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social views, they were vagabonds who had disregard for money, despised conventionalities, and rejected bourgeois values and life.
Although steeped in its French roots, the bohemian ideal transferred easily to many countries and cultures, changing shapes and inspiring many artistic movements of the 20th century. Since bohemia is a state of mind, rebels continued to disregard conventions and explore the forbidden through free love, homosexuality, illegitimate children, drugs and alcoholism. We bring you artists whose eccentric characters and unconventional ways of life marked their artistic careers.
Editors’ Tip: In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roe
Find out more about the vivid and colorful world of Montmartre at the beginning of the century. This lively and deeply researched group biography of the prominent art figures of the bohemian Paris in the first decade of the twentieth century presents a colorful history of the birth of Modernist art. Featuring a teenage Pablo Picasso eager for fame and fortune first making his way up the hillside of Paris’s famous windmill-topped district, and other prominent figures such as Matisse, Derain, de Vlaminck, Braque, Modigliani, this books explores the revolution of the artistic expression. Taking a reader on a journey through studios, salons, cafés, dance halls, and galleries of Montmartre, Roe captures an extraordinary group on the cusp of fame and immortality and brings to life one of the key moments in the history of art.
A brilliant, prolific painter who lived an extraordinarily tragic life, Amedeo Modigliani was the model bohemian artist. His life was a life of torment and isolation, as he strived to separate himself from political and cultural institutions of bourgeois society and the tyranny of everyday life. Being a frequent visitor of famous Montmartre cafes, he was always seeking pleasure, passion, and self-expression through sex, drugs, alcohol, and art. With a life story so dramatic and haunting that often overshadows his work, Modigliani’s life was the stuff of movies. He died prematurely in 1920 at the age of 35 of tubercular meningitis. He was discovered by a neighbor in his final hours with his young and pregnant mistress Jeanne Hébuterne nursing him. Two days after his death, she threw herself from the fifth-floor window.
Featured images: Amadeo Modigliani, via artslife.com; Paul Guillaume and Amedeo Modigliani, via Creative Commons
Argentinian-born painter Leonor Fini, one of the few women in the male-dominated French surrealist movement, ruled the Parisian art world in the first half of the 20th century. This bohemian 'it girl' that ran in the same circles as Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Picasso and Henri Cartier-Bresson, was known for her outstanding beauty, bubbly character, flamboyant style and liberal views on life. With no professional artistic training, she used art to express the visions she experienced during a period of blindness she suffered as a teenager. Being a feminist and highly independent, she painted women in positions of power and celebrated female sexuality. Attending all the parties and appearing in numerous society magazines, Fini was one of the most recognizable faces of bohemian Parisian society at the time. Famous for her openly bisexual and anti-marriage views and menage-a-trois relationships, she lived in her Parisian apartment with two lovers and seventeen cats until her death in 1996.
While still in Spain, Pablo Picasso was a frequent visitor to the legendary tavern and brothel Els Quatre Gats, but his true bohemian life began in 1900 in Montmartre in Paris. This rustic quarter of Paris hosted artisans, factory workers, tradesmen, petty criminals, performers and prostitutes. Picasso was hooked on absynthe, a drink that also inspired many famous painters of his time. After moving to wooden barracks of Le Bateau-Lavoir, he met his new muse Fernande Olivier, with whom he frequently took opium. Picasso had affairs with perhaps hundreds of women, but only seven women were a crucial catalyst in his artistic development. Two of them killed themselves and two went mad. He took liberties as he chose, even in the later stages of his life. He even died in style, while hosting a dinner party, and his last words were: 'Drink to me, drink to my health. You know I can’t drink anymore.'
Featured images: Pablo Picasso and Brigitte Bardot, via mashable.com; Modigliani, Picasso and André Salmon.
Famous British painter Francis Bacon lived his life to the fullest. He ate big meals several times a day, used drugs, and drank excessively. He was a regular at Soho’s pubs and drinking clubs, and was a member of famous Colony Room Club in 1948 – a private club that allowed drinking from lunchtime through the night despite restrictive licencing laws. His drinking marathons lasted late through the night, begging friends to stay and drink more with him. He would buy drinks for everyone in sight, and engaged in lengthy conversations about the pointlessness of life. Even though he drank tremendous quantities of alcohol during the night, he would wake up early and paint for several hours. He said that drinking loosened him up and that hangover makes his mind crackling with energy and clarity. On one occasion, he told the barman at the Colony Room Club, 'When I'm dead, put me in a plastic bag and throw me in the gutter’.
Featured image: Francis Bacon, via theguardian.com
Tempestuous personal life of Lucian Freud is part of his legend. A grandson of Sigmund Freud and one of British most talented artist, Lucian Freud was also a regular at Soho drinking clubs and pubs. Soon he became addicted to gambling and brawling in pubs. As a notorious and reckless gambler, he would often pay back his bookies with paintings. One night he lost £20,000 at the gambling mogul and conservationist John Aspinall's casino. Pressured to pay his debt, he offered to paint a baby gorilla Aspinall kept at his wildlife sanctuary. Dorothy Hastings, Aspinall’s mother in law, brought the gorilla to his studio by a cab, and it managed to urinate on her and rip her dress. He was married twice, but it is rumored he has fathered around forty children, even though only fourteen have been identified.
Featured image: Lucian Freud, via grahamworld.blogspot.com
A self-proclaimed ‘terrible monster’, Francis Picabia was a prominent figure of the artistic avant-garde of the first half of the twentieth century and the Dada movement. He spent his time at the Weber and the Élysée-Palace, where he associated with anti-Symbolist poet and dandy Paul-Jean Toulet, a lover of opium and laudanum. His life was marked by excesses in alcohol, drugs and sex, mad parties and feverish work between spells of neurasthenia and profound depression. Eventually settling in New York, his addictions became a problem, and his health deteriorated. He eventually managed to overcome his abuses and died at the age of 74.
Featured image: Francis Picabia by Man Ray, 1921, via theredlist.com
Willem de Kooning, Dutch American abstract expressionist, became a victim of the fame he enjoyed, indulging in parties, alcohol and casual sex. In the early 50s in America, rougher versions of the Parisian café emerged, the Club and the Cedar Tavern. De Kooning would go boozing at the Cedar with Pollock, who was often a violent alcoholic. The alcohol first served as a liberator of inspiration, but soon after it became a problem for him. The Alzheimer disease he later developed was believed to be caused by his alcoholism.
Featured image: Willem de Kooning, via canadianbeerandpostmodernism.tumblr.com