We have explored many aspects of the bohemian lifestyle in previous posts. We know these artists lived free of social convention when it came to painting and partying, but what about their lives when it came to relationships?
Sexuality among the bohemians was as free and unconventional as the rest of their life. Although some artists had long term partners (people do fall in love, after all), in general most had casual relationships or short term romances/sexual liaisons. Even those who had spouses usually had mistresses and one night stands. Free love officially got its start during this time.
Artist models were passed around from painter to painter, and usually there was a sexual relationship between the model and the man currently painting her. She was the "muse". One artist would be inspired by her hair, another by the way her ankles and calves looked. Once the initial excitement of whatever impressed the painter was over, they usually looked for new inspiration and the model moved on. Many people in present day mistakenly think being an artist's model was glamorous. Not so. It was akin to being a prostitute, but usually without pay! At least, in monetary terms. The model had her face and body featured in paintings for the world to see, hopefully for many generations to come.
There were also sexual encounters between higher class women and the bohemian artists. Women have always been drawn to artistic types, and these poor, starving artists were no exception - especially if they were good-looking. However, it was understood that it was sex only. The woman looked right past the painter should she meet him on the street while with her spouse or friends. Nor was the artist considered marrying material. He was simply wild entertainment, to be tossed aside by the woman once finished.
Of course, there were many bohemian artists who only dreamed of having a beautiful, wealthy lover who actually smelled good! Most times they ended up with some poor grisette who was not so good-looking (and much less good smelling!). No matter. Sex was frequent, partners were plentiful, and it was a way to forget their rumbling stomachs and cold rooms for a few hours.
Homosexuality and lesbianism were also more accepted with the bohemians. With their "live and let live" lifestyle, it didn't matter to them who a person loved or simply desired. It was the business of the couple and no one else.
Montmartre was also a place where the wealthier people came to "slum" for a night. They could find prostitutes of both sexes, some of them very young boys. Yes, Montmartre was known as the hub of vices and pleasures.
On the surface, it looked like all fun and games. The average person ignored the fact that these artists many times went without eating, lived in unheated slums, seldom had running water, and likely found most of life quite unpleasant and depressing. Who could blame them for finding what pleasure they could out of life? Who wouldn't?
Another thing to keep in mind during this time was that syphilis had started to become a huge issue. Along with poor birth control, this lifestyle of free sex had its repercussions; yet young men with access to young women very seldom thought about it. Many artists fathered children but didn't bother to marry. The women then ended up in worse poverty, with hungry children to feed.
Yes, to their credit, some did marry or at least try to provide for their children, but by and large it was a man's world, and women opened their legs at their own peril. Still, there was no shortage of women who were willing to model (and more) for these crazy bohemians.
After all, not many could resist the lure of the nonconforming, free-living artists. Since they painted wild and without rules, it had to seem that they would likely be the the same in bed. And who knows? Maybe they were every bit as good with that particular "paintbrush". Only the artists and their partners will ever know.
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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