The First Bohemians: Life and Art in London's Golden Age Hardcover – 3 Oct 2013
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
The black and white illustrations are not well produced and are difficult to see.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If I had a time machine, I'd want to go and see for myself the Covent Garden that Vic Gatrell describes so vividly in this wonderful book.Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
It is informative factually but surprisingly hard to read. I found my attention wandering. Perhaps a bit more sub editing would have helped.Published 4 months ago by cjonathanprice
I was unable to download this book onto my tablet. I waited four or five days before I just deleted it from downloading onto my kindle. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Amazon Customer
A terriffic venture into Georgian London and the Covent Garden art scenePublished 18 months ago by Sara Jane Taukolonga
Extremely well written book, and a must if you are interested in the periodPublished 22 months ago by SY
gorgeous book about the 18th century absolutley loved this one, brilliant well done , have not read it all but you can just pick this one up and read from any page ...Published on 6 Jan. 2014 by bluecasual