It would be easy to say that this period, the new age of London, after the fin de siècle was the new dawn of London’s creative thinking. Paving the way for creative energy to be realised and powering a century of thinking and differential.
But it is true. Without the Bohemians our modern movement of anti-establishment ‘Rock n Roll’ behaviour wouldn’t be here. Quite simply these were some of the most pioneering cultural spirits we’ve experienced.
Augustus John was undoubtedly the King of The Bohemians
Augustus John’s standing as a painter is equalled perhaps only by his reputation as a lover.
Fascinated by Romany culture he travelled the country in his own set of horse drawn vans taking numerous lovers as well as being at the centre of a ménage-à-trois with wife Ida Nettleship and muse Dorothy “Dorelia” McNeill. John and his associates would frequent the Café Royal and John was a centre of attraction among the cosmopolitan crowd that gathered there, Sporting gypsy hat, silk scarf and gold earring that would become not only his trademark, but required dress for any would-be bohemian.
Was closely associated to many important figures in 20th-century literature. She was married to Swedish playwright August Strindberg and she was the daughter of the well-known Friedrich Uhl. On 26 June 1912, she opened the Cave of the Golden Calf, a nightclub decorated by Wyndham Lewis and across the road from The Café Royal. Although the Club did not remain open for long, its reputation in undying.
An heir to the Cunard family, political activist and writer, she became a muse to some of the 20th century’s most distinguished writers and artists, including Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Tristan Tzara, Ezra Pound and Louis Aragon, who were among her lovers, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Constantin Brâncuși and Man Ray. Her personal style was one influenced by African artifacts and inspired by Cubism, later became recognised as Avant Garde and inspired many large jewellery house later.
American born British Sculptor, Epstein involved himself with a bohemian and artistic crowd. Revolting against ornate, pretty art, he made bold, often harsh and massive forms of bronze or stone. His sculpture is distinguished by its vigorous rough-hewn realism. Avant-garde in concept and style, his works often shocked his public audience.
The main playground of The Bohemians was undoubtedly the West End of London and there are many places, objects and people that tell fascinating stories of this period and its characters. The Café Royal on Regent Street, recently refurbished as one of the most luxurious Hotels in London, still has The Grill Room in its unadulterated architectural form. As beautiful as the William Orpen portrayal in the Group-portrait, The Café Royal 1912, is testament to this.
The Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street was a public house that truly embraced the creative community, not only at that time but continually through the decades until the 1950’s with writers artists actors photographers journalists and radio personalities would gather. Most notably at the end were George Orwell and Dylan Thomas.
The Fitzroy was run by the Kleinfeld family originally, with their daughter Annie continuing the business when they retired, with her husband Charlie and their daughter Sally. Sally Fiber has written a fantastic book about the history of The Fitzroy and the characters who frequented it, and of course the Charity they started for impoverished children in Fitzrovia. The area that the Pub gave its name.
We have met with Sally several times to help get into the underbelly of the place and people for the Musical, and here’s a short recording from one afternoon we were talking about it.
The last surviving illegitimate son of Augustus John, seen above right as a boy playing arrows, Tristan spoke with us about his times and the research he had done about his father’s time at The Café Royal and what he thinks of Betty May The Musical.