Bohemianism and Counter-Culture

The History of Bohemianism

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  1802 1829 1841 1848 1862 1894 1896 1980 1994

Prior to the revolution of 1789, the fine arts, especially painting and engraving, were considered to be mere trades. Like other trades, it was kept within the family - " would be folly to take on a wife who could not make herself useful about the studio" (Easton 3). An artist found himself somewhere between the upper-domestic and the lower-civil servant. To succeed he needed a patron, a wealthy upper-class man or woman, however, this often meant that he was not free to choose the subject of his art. Members of the upper class considered artists poorly educated, and vulgar, and often, they were right. Anyone who sold their art was of a lower class, as true gentlemen would never sell art-work, though they might create it. A campaign was begun around 1750 by prominent and well off artists at the time to improve the educations and morals of the artists, in order to give the 'trade' some of the respectability due to a 'profession.' (Easton 4)

However, while this push for moral rehabilitation helped to gain respectability, it was writers such as Balzac and Hugo who made the artist life-style what is commonly thought of today. Within them began the Romantic Movement, a true youth movement. It was in the 1820s, when writers, both novelists and poets, began to be associated with sculptors, painters, and engravers, that the profession became accepted, if somewhat eccentric. Victor Hugo's Romantic Army became the basis of the Bohemians.

The youth who made up the early Bohemians were generally disillusioned young men from the bourgeois. At this time, after the 1789 revolution, the classes of society were being driven apart. The bourgeois who were elevated by this split often felt guilt at their position of privilege. Those who didn't fear to leave those positions often became artists and writers in protestation to what they felt was a destruction of beauty and nature. They saw the bourgeois as a plague feeding off the land through industrialization (Miller 2).

All of the writers of this time period tried to define and put their own spin on this romantic youth movement. The term "Bohemian" came into the public consciousness through Georges Sands' novels. The author Murger attempted to explain that 'bohemians' had always been in existence, in such famous examples as Homer, Shakespeare and Moliere.

By the end of the 1800s, Bohemianism in Paris was coming to an end, although it did not end entirely until the beginning of the first World War. However, throughout the 20th century there have been Bohemian movements, from the beats of the 1950s to the hippies of the 1960s, that owe inspiration to the original Parisian "vie Boheme."

(To continue learning about the history of Bohemians, especially through arts and literature,
click on the dates on the time-line above.)