I'm glad to be back for a post, though. You know those crazy bohemians have a special place in my heart. After all, I'm a painter, too. It all sounds like great fun, reading about those Impressionists and other artists who gathered in Paris during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. And, in many ways, I'm sure it was. Still, we need to remember that they were struggling. Many times they had no money to put food on the table. Many times they were lucky to even own a table!
The living quarters of these poverty-stricken artists were anything but fun. Not so many years before they were at least guaranteed a warm room and food every day from their benefactors that hired them to paint family history. Now with their new found freedom came the reality that room and board was no longer something they could count on. If they were going to eat or have a place to keep warm, they had to provide it themselves.
Most of these artists didn't have fancy studios or apartments. Oh, sure, as time went by a few of them were very successful. Renoir, Degas, and later on Picasso all saw fame, along with a few other lucky chosen. They ended up with beautiful homes and gardens, but not until they were quite a bit older. Picasso was a rare exception that did very well before he was an old man. Renoir and Degas, like I mentioned in a previous post, sometimes sold paintings door to door in order to get enough money to buy a meal. Even Picasso lived in the tenements that were called artist's quarters when he first started out in Paris. Interestingly enough, in his later life he said those days of struggle were when he was the happiest and did his best work.
When Picasso first arrived in Paris, he became friends with Max Jacob, a journalist and poet. They shared an apartment and Jacob taught Picasso French. The apartment was one small room. Poor and very cold, many times they burned Picasso's paintings just to stay warm. This or may not have been in the infamous Le Bateau -Lovoir. I do know Picasso and Jacob did both live in this building.
Le Bateau-Lavoir was an artist's commune. Really it looked more like a trash heap. When it was windy the whole building swayed and creaked. Dirty and dark, there was no heat and no plumbing. The way it was set up inside was like an ocean liner. In the whole building there was only ONE water tap. One of Picasso's lovers was known to have stayed in bed all day because it was the only place that was warm. In addition, she left a cup of water out all night, and found it frozen solid in the morning. Yet this notorious building housed a ridiculously high number of creative geniuses who would make art history. Click here to read the names of many of those great artists, under "history". Renoir was one of the artists who lived here for awhile, and Suzanne Valadon (who would herself become a painter) was his model. In 1970 it was mostly destroyed by fire, but the facade remained. It was rebuilt in 1978.
So, although those crazy bohemians partied hard and painted free, life was hardly easy. Just like now, artists lived in the cheapest places they could find, hoping against hope that somehow, someday they would become popular and at last have money to live on. A great number of those artists from that era did become famous. Unfortunately, most of them were old or dead by the time it happened.
No, life was not easy. These artists didn't paint because it was fun or because it was popular or easy. They painted only for one reason. They painted because they had to. It was why they were born.
I promise to come back to "Those Crazy Bohemians again soon. I hope you are enjoying my blogposts about these wonderful artists who changed the face of the art world forever, in the most creative and wonderful ways.
Caddy Rowland is a novelist and painter. Her social media links follow.
To find out about her novels (including The Gastien Series, a story that begins with a bohemian artist in France) visit http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005FW8BZE
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