Sunday, March 27, 2011

Czech Bohemian Beauties in Paris

In the early 1800’s many eastern Europeans began moving west to cities like Paris.   But the French weren’t exactly thrilled with these new folks who invaded the poorest of their Parisian ghettos.   "Bohemian" became slang for people who had reached Western Europe via (by way of) Bohemia.  The only ethnic group the locals disliked more were the Gypsies, who also originated from Bohemia.

Writers, artists, musicians, students and free spirits against the  bourgeoisie mainstream found one another in these poor neighborhoods, and gradually the slang name "Bohemians" changed from meaning where you were from to meaning how you lived.

This group developed a philosophy of  living for the moment and turned their backs to conventional society norms.   If you were an outcast, you fit right in.   It was common for Parisian Bohemians to create intimate living relationships that few outside their small Parisian communities understood.  In particular, what was considered a “family” was often avant-garde in that numerous women and men interchanged roles and relationships, with many of them often living together in one small apartment flat.  It was a place where gays were viewed and welcomed as a 'third sex' that was part of the community.  Just as significant, according to W. Prescott, there was minimal stigma attached to same-sex relations between straight and gay men.  "There was no stigma in getting sex from a homosexual who played the female role."

The Bohemians preferred to live and spend time in two parts of Paris: The Latin Quarter and Montmartre. Montmartre was outside the city limits (and thus free of Paris taxes) and considered to be the most gay of the two neighborhoods.  The area developed into a hub of free-wheeling and decadent entertainment at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. In the popular cabaret the Moulin Rouge  artists, singers and performers regularly appeared.  Men flirted openly with other men. 
Henri Murger's Scénes de la Vie Bohéme  (1844) depicted life in the Latin Quarter.  Murger's book enjoyed immediate popularity.
The image above, Octave Tassaert's The Studio, was painted in 1845, almost synonymously with the birth of bohemian Paris.

By the 1920’s, the bohemian drinking holes had already became legendary places for ideas to flourish and radical thoughts to be expressed without fear.  The neighborhoods were also the places where respectable Parisian (and tourists for the Exposition and Olympics) went to find female prostitutes, who were not of French decent.  The men-only baths of Montmartre were infamous for their sexual adventures.

Straight men may have come to see the dancing girls on stage but many wound their evening up getting a free "Bohemian" which meant a blow job.  As historian Wilbur Ellis noted in 1926, "there was no such thing as promiscuity, only opportunity for delight."  

Parisian artisans found many of these Bohemians to be especially beautiful and they became the models for paintings and drawings.  As we've already seen, there was a thriving porn business in Paris in the 1920's, and again these Bohemians were often the smut models.
This lifestyle was initially popularized in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, Vanity Fair (published in 1848). Public perceptions of the alternative life-styles led by artists and adventurers were further molded by George du Maurier's highly romanticized best-selling novel of Bohemian culture Trilby (1894). The novel outlines the fortunes of three expatriate English artists, their Irish model, and two very colorful Eastern European musicians, in the artists' quarter of Paris. In Spanish literature, the Bohemian impulse can be seen in Ramón del Valle-Inclán's play Luces de Bohemia ("Bohemian Lights") published in 1920.

 Please note: This ends the Czech series. 


  1. "there was no such thing as promiscuity, only opportunity for delight."

    I love that. I think I'll put that on a card with my phone number...


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