is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds
“Je sais quand je suis né, mais pas pourquoi…” – Proverbe Rom
Walking through the archways of Le Grand Palais is sort of creepy. Nobody expects to find themselves in a damp wooded labrynth with gilded paintings and burgundy tapestries. La Bohème Expo in the Grand Palais gallery is coordinated to match the Bohemian lifestyle, which is to constantly be living in tune with nature, and to always be on the move.
Artists started recreating Bohemia right around the plague— in other words, the mid-15th century. The paintings featured a chaste virgin/tempting gypsy dichotomy. Gypsies, or Roms, had been around in Europe for centuries before art made them famous, though. Their traveling lifestyle formed the foundation of the philosophy based on living off of the good intentions or naiveté of others. Roms found their way to Western Europe through Bohemia, or what is now called the Czech Republic.
“La Bohèmienne” – Pierre Auguste Renoir
PHOTO: Gilles Nèret
The exhibition begins with plaques written in French and English, explaining the history of Roms in Central and Western Europe. The first statue is a marble bust of a chaste Bohemian woman. The following paintings show gypsies and women who wore their hair down and curly (gasp), defying social norms and rendering them rebels of the times. Renoir’s “La Bohèmienne” has a girl with long wavy hair and a worried look on her face, probably due to the auspicious bulge in her stomach. Audio guides go into further detail about the alleged inspiration behind each painting.
“A Pair of Shoes” – Vincent Van Gogh
PHOTO: Leslie Parke
Vincent Van Gogh’s painting resonates with the traveling spirit of Bohemianism. It’s not about the quality of the shoes, it’s about where the person wearing them has been and what they’ve experienced.
“Qui voyage beaucoup, apprend beaucoup…” – Proverbe Rom
At one point or another, every Bohemian gets the travel bug. But this is a specific kind of wanderlust, the kind that makes people crave crépes and hot wine. The Montmartre neighborhood in Paris has aging cafes and cabarets that draw artists like flies to honey. Le Chat Noir is the family crest for people that used to thrive in these social boxes, whether it was to philosophize, commiserate, or participate in some harmless debauchery. The painter, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, was born on the hill in Montmartre.
“Le Chat Noir” – Theophile Alexandre Steinlen
Glorified by counter-culturists to this day, the Bohemian era is still not over. Each decade, the creative milieu reinvents it to incarnate the sentiment of the times. The beatniks, the hippies, the squatters, and the ravers of today all have one thing in common: a reverence for all things Bohème.
A bunch of people at the exhibit were dressed up like the museum was a themed party. No one else got that memo. I guess the freedom of La vie Bohème is too attractive to pass up.