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How Bohemians shaped the modern world

— March 2013

Associated media

Édouard Manet
Boy with Pitcher, c. 1862-1872
The Art Institute of Chicago. Bequest of Katharine Dexter McCormick © The Art Institute of Chicago

Bohemian Lights:
 Artists, Gypsies and the Definition of the Modern World

From 2 February to 5 May 2013 the Recoletos Exhibition Halls of FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE will host the exhibition ‘Bohemian Lights: Artists, Gypsies and the Definition of the Modern World’, which explores the origins of artistic Bohemianism and how it is connected to the representation of gypsies in art.

Featuring approximately 100 masterpieces by artists such as Goya, Watteau, Gainsborough, Boucher, Teniers, Corot, Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Sorolla, Sargent, Signac, Van Gogh and Picasso, among others, the show charts the origins and development of artistic Bohemianism and how its history is interwoven with the special status afforded to gypsies and vagabonds in art. Some of the works on display have been lent by prestigious international institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the New York Public Library, the Morgan Library & Museum and the Hispanic Society of New York, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Musée d ́Orsay, Musée du Louvre and Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Tate in London, among others.

The exhibition has been co-organized by FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE and the Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais in Paris, where it opened in September 2012. However, the Madrid version of the show features several important differences, which highlight the image that international artists had of Spanish gypsies and the impact of Paris’ legendary Bohemianism on Picasso and others who helped to shape the modern era.

The concept of artistic Bohemianism emerged in the mid-19th century, halfway between Romanticism and Realism. From that moment on, the artist’s creative freedom became paramount, even though it often entailed professional failure and social marginalization. Paintings, literature, the press, songs, operas and films told the tales of talented youths who chose to lead lives of abject poverty rather than betray their lofty artistic ideals. These narratives drew on the conventional imagery associated with gypsies and vagabonds, who shared the artist’s need for an unfettered, authentic existence. Thus, the Bohemian lifestyle grew into one of the great legends of themodern era.

This legend is part of the rich, complex
history of the Bohemians – travelling gypsy
races whose nomadic existence has been
stereotyped in the history of art and
literature as the symbol of a lifestyle
unencumbered by rules, ties or bourgeois
conventions. Thus, when many young artists
flouted the rules and were rejected by the
academic system in the mid-19th century, they fled to the garrets and taverns of Paris. Sure of their talent but misunderstood by the critics,they suffered the same fate of marginality
and poverty as the gypsies, and little by little
this lifestyle came to be revered as the prerequisite for artistic and spiritual freedom.

Thus, in the 19th century, gypsy and artistic Bohemianism became the favourite models of Bohemian creators, who sought to portray the world and themselves in that alterity. This exhibition explores that shared history, highlighting the points of convergence and divergence between these two Bohemianisms which shaped the modern world.

FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE – Instituto de Cultura Paseo de Recoletos no 23. Madrid, Spain

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