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The First Bohemians: Life and Art in London's Golden Age Hardcover – 3 Oct 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (3 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846146771
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846146770
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 15.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 324,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

An irresistible history, fizzing with life (Philip Pullman Observer BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

Gatrell's love for this dangerous but brilliant age is matched by his expert knowledge of its culture, both high and low (Dan Jones Daily Telegraph HISTORIES OF THE YEAR)

A rich and surprising book ... a sumptuous Christmas treat (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times HISTORY BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

Could be bought for its illustrations alone (Francis Wilson Times Literary Supplement BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

Compelling ... scholarly and bawdy (Tristram Hunt Mail on Sunday BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

A gorgeously engrossing book, bracingly sceptical of received pieties ... combines scholarship with originality, colour and imagination to a rare degree ... Boozy, arty and sexually charged, Covent Garden in the mid-1700s surges spectacularly into life in this engrossing history ... As well as recording Covent Garden's buzz and buoyancy, Gatrell aims to alter how we think about 18th-century painting. Our automatic association of it with Reynolds's or Gainsborough's flattering society portraits or with nymph-ridden neoclassical allegories is, he thinks, a mistake, and he quotes approvingly Johnson's declaration that he would rather see a portrait of a dog he knew than all the allegorical paintings in the world. Against Reynolds and his Royal Academicians Gatrell pits the realists, who drew or painted the street life of workaday Londoners ... They provide the most memorable images in Gatrell's book, not just familiar masterpieces such as Hogarth's glowingly wholesome Shrimp Girl, but sketches he has retrieved from obscurity - an exhausted washerwoman slumped in a chair, a ballet dancer lying flat on a table to ease her legs, a carter leaning over the side of his cart to kiss his sweetheart (John Carey Sunday Times)

Welcome to Vic Gatrell's London ... [His] brilliant account ... brings it all to life: the site of Dirty Lane where passers-by defecated; the stench of smoke, horses, humans, dead fish and offal; and the sound of "the melodious clank of marrow bone and cleaver" with which the Covent Garden butchers welcomed George I's coronation in 1714 ... Gatrell's scholarly career has been a sustained attempt to recapture Georgian London from Victorian prudery ... In its sweep of visual arts, social history, literary criticism and bawdy culture [The First Bohemians] provides a superb chronicle of a golden age of authentic, urban creativity (Tristram Hunt Sunday Times)

Gatrell's book does [his subject] justice in all the right ways. It is beautifully produced - from the sumptuous, almost three-dimensional dust jacket to the more than 200 illustrations sprinkled liberally throughout the text ... The great joy of the book is how effortlessly and continuously his narrative and pictures illuminate one another ... It is a tour de force of social and pictorial history that few living historians could match ... a new kind of deeply social and more democratic history of artistic production ... Ultimately, though it rests on serious scholarship, The First Bohemians is ... a relaxed, confident and triumphantly successful re-creation of a fascinating world of male companionship, drunkenness, poverty, sex and art (Faramerz Dabhoiwala Guardian)

Colourful ... entertaining ... Gatrell does a fine job of tracing how the scurrilous behaviour of London's residents often inspired some of the finest works of art and literature ... the richness of detail makes The First Bohemians a pleasure to read ... his enthusiasm feels infectious (Economist)

Gatrell's richly documented (and wonderfully illustrated) study ... [shows] how an unconventional way of looking at the world - vivid, unpretentious and often richly comic - eventually found its way to the heart of our culture, and we are richer for it ... This book is, at its heart, more concerned with the history of art, and what might be called the history of public taste, than with social history. Gatrell deftly sketches the long-running conflict between two different approaches to painting in 18th-century England: the "high" school of the Royal Academicians, with its emphasis on noble history paintings, mythical scenes and grand Italianate landscapes, and the "low" school of Hogarth and his admirers, which drew on the Dutch tradition of portraying ordinary life in vivid domestic detail ... And while the "low" school never won the contest for prestige, it did produce a transformation of taste, teaching the English to take pleasure in local landscapes and the portrayal of simple human pleasures. In what is perhaps the finest section of the book, Gatrell shows how the great comic artist Thomas Rowlandson played a key part in this change (Noel Malcolm Sunday Telegraph)

Gatrell argues persuasively that it was their proximity to this mayhem that made the artists and writers in 18th century Covent Garden so vivid and exciting ... [He] proves a dab hand at recreating the blazing furnace of 18th century Covent Garden ... Gatrell is a natural iconoclast (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)

Gatrell is terrific company. He praises 18th-century writing for propelling us 'niftily to the point' and his own his prose performs the same trick ... The First Bohemians is generously, often ingeniously, illustrated and Gatrell's pithy commentary on the prints and pictures can be scathing ... Pleasure, particularly through misbehaviour, is one of Gatrell's great interests. His last book, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in 18th-Century London ... was generally proclaimed a masterpiece, and in The First Bohemians - also destined to be loaded with prizes - he returns to the 'importance', 'necessity' and 'truthtelling' of satire, the 18th century's mental health check (Francis Wilson New Statesman)

[A] marvellous book ... exhilarating, richly illustrated and witty (Financial Times)

This is dense, ripely enjoyable social history (Peter Conrad Observer)

Gatrell's evocation of taverns, bagnios and alleys is compelling. He has a lovely eye for shadows in paintings and how they indicate time of day; he has a lively eye for sympathies in sketches. Butchers, bawds, rakes, tradesmen, sailors, fruit-sellers, fruit-buyers, tailors, cooks, pie-men, aristocrats, oilmen, coalmen, stay-makers, bookbinders, button-sellers and dozens of others are particularised fleetingly from crowds. Exact topography makes it clear how jostle and juxtaposition brought all sorts of people together. Decent dealings get an occasional look-in; the possibility of clean, calm and sunny moments is conceded. ... for all its zest for sensual assault, [The First Bohemians] engages with the unwashed great in illuminating scholarship (Clare Brant Times Higher Education)

About the Author

Vic Gatrell's last book, City of Laughter won both the Wolfson Prize for History and the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize; his The Hanging Tree won the Whitfield Prize of the Royal Historical Society. He is a Life Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge.


Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a very well researched study of Covent Garden and its adjoining districts in the eighteenth century with 174 illustrations with pithy comments and evocative descriptions based on contemporary accounts. The author notes the exact locations of many dwellinghouses, coffee shop, studios etc to prove his thesis [he succeeds, even though there was at the time no established middle class to be bohemian against]. I had to go to the endpapers of "Boswell's London Journal" published by Heinemann in 1950 which has a plan of CG showing some of the places he mentions. Something similar in this book would be helpful. On a minor point. I annot agree that the present Covent Garden is a "charmless tourist trap", The tourists I can't answer for, but architectually St Paul's church still dominates the piazza with its portico and great Tuscan eaves protecting us from the fierce London sun, looking over Fowler's market building, itself an outstanding piece of architecture.
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By Keen Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER on 15 July 2014
Format: Paperback
The world of ‘bohemian’ London in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries crops up often in some of the books that I read; by the time of Dickens much of this unique world and way of life had gone, but there is still a shadow of it in his writing. The pictures and caricatures, the satirical and often scathing indictments on society, politics and culture that were offered by artists such as Rowlandson and Hogarth, probably the best known ‘popular’ artists of the time have lived on and still offer relevant commentary to viewers today.

The author has taken an area focusing around Covent Garden and offered a view of the lives, occasions and output of some of these artists who lived in this hothouse of inspiration. Many of the most well-known artistic and literary names of the eighteenth century lived, at one time or another in this area, and this book covers the artists. It would be nice to find a book that covered the literary aspect of this area and time; that too would make a tremendous read. There is an Appendix in this book that lists all that is known of 146 artists and engravers who lived in and around the Covent Garden area during the period in the book; that makes for a lot of people of artistic temperament living in a small area, and making the most of life. Most of them lived hard, fast and sometimes brutal lives, and this shows in a lot of their work – bawdy, cutting, brutally ‘warts and all’ images of life and living in the eighteenth century. There is more to be learned by studying some of these images than could be said in many words about the same scene, and they repay close study immensely. The author has included about 200 images in the book, and they are all related and referenced to the text and points made therein. This makes for a great and thoroughly engaging read about a time and place that seemed quite unique in the European world. Quite remarkable, and extremely interesting.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book not only brings to life a fascinating area of London but also the lives of the people, the artists,actors and writers who lived there. It is really readable history at it's very best. I had never seen many of the illustrations before and they help to make it a shocking but gloriously funny book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As usual with Vic Gatrell this is informative, entertaining and very well written. A must for history buffs and those interested in London.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting and thorough history of a formative period in the capital's history.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the early chapters of this book on Covent Garden, the area, buildings etc and then I looked forward to hearing about some of the Bohemians of the title. Fair enough Gatrell decided to focus on artists, and we only get tantalising glimpses of their literary and thespian neighbours, but he focuses on very few artists. Of these I would question the society painter Sir Joshua Reynolds "bohemian" credentials. Then where are the women? One definition of bohemian is leading an alternative life style, a women artist was doing that in having a profession at all Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser are mentioned, but that is all. The only women we really meet are those the author constantly refers to as "whores" and they are just appdendages to the paintings. Ian Kelly in Mr Foote's Other Leg painted a very vibrant picture of Bohemian life and managed to include the stories of both genders in a sympathetic way.
The black and white illustrations are not well produced and are difficult to see.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this for its study of Hogarth in context, but it proved to be much more than that, dripping with precise and telling facts about the ramshackle but wonderfully inventive world around Coventry Garden in the eighteenth century.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
well written informative book that brought the 18th century alive haven't finished reading it yet my pleasure before I fal;l asleep
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