- Baudelaire the Damned: A BiographyOur PickBy F.W.J. Hemmings
- Charles BaudelaireOur PickBy Rosemary Lloyd
Charles Baudelaire and Important Artists and Artworks
Arguably Jacques-Louis David's greatest painting, The Death of Marat, features the French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat at the moment of his death. He often worked at a makeshift desk while in his bathtub to help alleviate irritation from his chronic skin condition and it is here that he was assassinated by the federalist revolutionary C harlotte Corday. Beautifully awash in light, in this painting his white skin stands in sharp contrast to the dark background and his limp body evokes similarities to Christ's body at the time of his deposition from the cross.
A champion of Neoclassicism, Charles Baudelaire praised this painting in an article about the movement in the journal Le Corsaire-Satan in 1846. His adoration of the painting offers proof of Baudelaire's willingness to challenge public opinion. According to author Frederick William John Hemmings, at the time of publication, political public opinion was not in favor of the Revolution and so, "in praising [the painting] Baudelaire was well aware that he was flying in the face of received opinion. Today, of course, the unpopular view he put forward is the generally accepted one ".
This painting saw the writer begin to embrace modernity. Of the painting specifically, he wrote, "the drama has been caught, still living in all its lamentable horror, and by a strange feat that makes of this painting David's true masterpiece and one of the great curiosities of modern art, it has nothing trivial or ignoble about it". In describing its impact, Baudelaire added, "there is something in this work that melts the heart and wrings it too; in the chilly air of this chamber, on these cold walls, around this cold bath-tub is also a coffin, there hovers a soul". David's depiction surely spoke to the radical spirit in Baudelaire.
A nude woman, but for the colorful scarf in her hair and bracelets on her wrist, dominates the canvas of Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres's Grande Odalisque. As the title indicates, she is a harem girl who lounges across cushions and colorful sheets in her bedroom in which also hangs a blue brocade curtain in an exotic pattern. The model is a study in contradictions in that her nudity and her direct gaze, looking back over her right shoulder, make her actions seem at once demure and bold. A controversial work, it was the subject of much debate when it first debuted at the Paris Salon of 1819. According to art historian François De Vergnette, "the nude was a major theme in Western art, but since the Renaissance figures portrayed in that way had been drawn from mythology; here [however] Ingres transposed the theme to a distant land". Ingres's willingness to push for a more modern form made him an artist worthy of analytical scrutiny for Baudelaire.
Today this work is considered a precursor to the Romantic movement. According to the art historian Rosemary Lloyd, Baudelaire believed that Romanticism was the "expression of beauty, springing from a sharp awareness of what the modern world has to offer that makes its forms of beauty unique". Baudelaire was especially impressed with any artist who could master the art of portraiture and depictions of human figures. Of the art of portraiture, he stated, "here the art is more difficult because it is more ambitious. You have to be able to bathe a head in the gentle vapours of a hot atmosphere or make it rise from the depths of dusk". According to Lloyd, Baudelaire considered Ingres to be, "'the master of line' and here in this work he shows his mastery over the human figure while simultaneously rendering it in a modern way".
In July 1830, "the People" of Paris embarked on a bloody revolt against the country's dictatorial monarch, King Charles X. On completing his commemoration of this momentous historic event Delacroix wrote to his brother stating: "I have undertaken a modern subject, a barricade, and although I may not have fought for my country, at least I shall have painted for her". The resulting painting was an archetype of Romanticism; destined to become one of France's finest art treasures, and Delacroix's greatest masterpiece. The artist's blend of classical allegory - "Liberty" as immortal and untouchable goddess brandishing the tricolour and leading her subjects into battle - with blunt realism - "Liberty" is dishevelled and flushed of face as she stands atop the bodies of the injured and dying - was brought to life by Delacroix through loose brush strokes and vivid coloring.
Baudelaire was Delacroix's most vocal supporter, describing him as "decidedly the most original painter of all times, ancient and modern" while adding that "everything in his oeuvre is desolation [...] smoking, burning cities, raped women, children thrown under the hooves of horses or stabbed by delirious mothers". Yet for all the artist's thematic preferences, Baudelaire was equally absorbed by Delacroix's handling of color since this illustrated perfectly the "correspondences" between the poet and the painter. While the poet was challenged in their ability to describe colors, the painter was equally curtailed in their ability to capture non-visual emotions and sounds. Baudelaire's higher appreciation of Delacroix was based on the idea that a Romantic painter of Delacroix's standing was the supreme colorist who could use his palette to capture and convey non-visual sensations. Color, in other words, could, if applied with great skill and verve, bring about a higher "poetic" state of bliss in the viewer.