Are You a Bohemian?

This nineteenth century person was. She let herself be painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and he named the painting Lise the Bohemian (1868):

File:Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Summertime.jpg

This appears to be a young woman, amidst a languid summer, in the process of falling in on herself, almost melting. Notice her opaque and distant expression, and how her hair, especially on her right side, has so heavily come down. Also notice that her blouse has dropped from her right shoulder.  In the 1860s these might not have been entirely proper things for a young woman, in the presence of a man, to allow to happen out-of-doors—even in a hot summer. She also has a rather “open” lap as if she could, like an ouroboros, move completely into her own body—and be sexually content with herself alone (bad news, I suppose, for Renoir).

Here is an image of an ouroboros :

File:Ouroboros 1.jpg

Also notice that in Lise the Bohemian’s right hand she holds a (fig?) leaf taken (plucked?) from the rich foliage. So there are also hints here of a naughty Eve. But I also see, working against her Bohemian casualness, a bit of Moses in her as well. Notice—with regard to her hair, blouse, and dress—that her left side is more controlled than her right side. And look at that left hand, how it has a calm but unmistakable hold on her wild-sides’s wrist. Her left hand is functioning as the serpent’s mouth that takes hold of its otherwise ungovernable tail. Like Freud observed of Michaelangelo’s Moses (who is portrayed as tugging at his beard to restrain his anger at the Israelites), so Lise the Bohemian is using one side of herself to control her other side:

By the way, a moment of wildness being restrained by rational self-control seems to be a motif in art. Here’s an example from a Gainsborough painting (one of his nature-chasing daughters is being held back by her calmer sibling):

In any case, the Renoir painting of Lise the Bohemian can be found in Berlin at the Alte Nationalgalerie, a rather ironic and symmetrical Apollonian home for so Dionysian a young woman:

File:AlteNationalgalerie 1a.jpg

On second thought, the above Berlin museum, though more symmetrical than Lise the Bohemian, actually seems an ideal home for her portrait, for it too has the feel of a self-contained and self-regulated ouroboros, its staircases converging on a gaping black mouth-arch with fountain tongue. 

Lise the Bohemian, by the way, appears indeed to have been Renoir’s lover (he met her when she was eighteen), and he painted her in various situations. Here she looks to be the model for Renoir’s Odalisque (1870). The ouroboros has let loose of herself and, as it were, rolled out:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Are You a Bohemian?

  1. Hi Santi.
    I like you analysis.
    Please continue the good work!
    Ole Skat Nielsen

  2. santitafarella says:


    Thank you for the encouragement. You’re very kind.


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