The First Bohemians

Written by Vic Gatrell
Review by Laura Shepperson

Vic Gatrell’s The First Bohemians is both entertaining and erudite. A detailed discussion of the artists and community that worked in and around Covent Garden in the 17th century, it reads like gossip from an “in the know” friend, including salacious descriptions of the antics of the “mohocks”, aristocratic young hooligans, and the inner workings of the “bagnios”. The book is brimming with pictures of contemporary prints and other art-works, and Gatrell interprets what these art-works say about the society and mores of their time eloquently.

This book is not for readers with no previous knowledge of the period – while there is a comprehensive index of the artists discussed, Gatrell frequently mentions politicians or writers by surname only, with no further explanation. The penultimate chapter, “An Ending” deals with the Gordon Riots which brought the era to a close. This would have been a logical conclusion. However, Gatrell goes on to write an Aftermath discussing the differences between Turner and Ruskin. The Aftermath feels like an afterthought and the argument is not clear.

Overall, The First Bohemians is an excellent read for anyone seeking to learn more about a brilliant, bawdy period in the history of our nation’s art.