Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Human Comedy: Chronicles of 19th-Century France

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Baudelaire de profil en chapeau II

Baudelaire de profil en chapeau II

Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883) Baudelaire de profil en chapeau II (Baudelaire in Profile with a Hat II), 1867–68 Etching Ellen H. Johnson Bequest, 1998.7.73

This etching by Manet of Charles Baudelaire is an homage made by one great “painter of modern life” to another. One of France’s most famous poets and art critics, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) dedicated his poetic and critical practice to the search for a verbal and visual vernacular of modernity. For Baudelaire, the “here” and the “now,” the “transitory” and the “fleeting,” were an essential part, along with the universal and eternal, of any expression of beauty. In his seminal 1863 essay, “The Painter of Modern Life,” Baudelaire outlined a new approach to the arts. Rather than seek beauty in the art of ancient Greece and Rome, as conventional academic painters did, the painter of mod-ern life would immerse himself in contemporary life, especially city life.

Baudelaire took a keen interest in caricature, in the newly developed lithographic process, and in the works of Honoré Daumier and Paul Gavarni, two of the primary artists fea-tured in this exhibition. For Baudelaire, lithography, like the croquis, or sketch, was among the artistic media most ap-propriate for the painting of modern life. "For sketches of manners, for the portrayal of bourgeois life and the fashion scene,” he wrote in reference to lithography, “the quickest and cheapest technical means will evidently be the best.” “[There] is in the trivial things of life, in the daily exchange of external things, a speed of movement that imposes upon the artist an equal speed of execution.” “We possess,” Baudelaire concluded, “veritable national records in this class; the works of [Paul] Gavarni and [Honoré] Daumier have been accurately described as complements to [Bal-zac’s] La Comédie humaine."