The Bohemian (sometimes referred as Consuelo) depicts a young gypsy girl sitting on the Quai de Tournelle. Just beyond her are the Pont de l'Archevêché and the Île de la Cité with Notre Dame in the background. In her lap, the young girl holds the instrument of her livelihood, her violin.
In the Braun & Clement photograph taken in 1889 (fig. 1), a wall of bare stone cuts off what later becomes the bridge and the view of the Seine. Bartoli has indicated that the alteration was definitely done by the artist himself, most likely at the persistence of a potential purchaser. The fact that Braun & Clement photographed the painting in 1889 indicates that at that time the work remained unsold, for Braun & Clement had a contract with Bouguereau to photograph his complete, yet unsold works. (In 1889, Bouguereau was no longer working with Goupil and had not yet entered into the exclusivity agreement with Arthur Tooth & Sons.)
It is also most likely that Bouguereau re-dated The Bohemian after he repainted it, something he did frequently throughout his career. There is pentimenti at the "9" and the "0" of the date, and parts of the "8" and the "9" are clearly visible beneath. The artist most likely changed the date of the painting to more accurately reflect the actual completion date of the final composition.
Bouguereau was one of the foremost advocates of Pompier painting, whose central tenet was that art should celebrate and promote civic messages such as purity of thought and hope. In choosing for his subject a young gypsy girl, pausing from her peregrinations through Paris playing her violin for food or coin, Bouguereau celebrates the virtues of labor and deplores the ignominy of poverty.
Because the proponents of Pompier painting sought to extol the virtues of the peasant class, Bouguereau always depicts his peasant girls as poignant rather than threatening, as wistful rather than resentful.
He also liked to use the same models for different compositions. The model for The Bohemian also appears in Petite bergère, which was painted in the same year (fig. 2). This time, the young girl is shown standing full-length in a landscape, also holding the implement of her livelihood, her shepherd's rod, over her shoulders.
We are grateful to Damien Bartoli for his assistance in preparing this catalogue note.
To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by Damien Bartoli with the assistance of Fred Ross, the Bouguereau Committee and the Art Renewal Center.
fig. 1. William Bougereau, The Bohemian, 1889, first state. Photograph taken by Braun & Clement.
fig. 2. William Bouguereau, Petite bergère, 1889, Private Collection.