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The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 20
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).

Guys was not what is properly called an artist, but he had the particular gift of sketching the chief points of things rapidly. In a flash of the eye, with an unequalled clear-sightedness, he disentangled from all the traits—just the one. He placed it in prominence, instinctively or designedly, rejecting the merely complementary parts.

No one was more reproachful than he of a pose, a "cassure," to use a vulgar word which exactly expresses our thoughts, whether in a dandy or in a voyou, in a great lady or in a daughter of the people. He possessed in a rare degree the sense of modern corruptions, in high as in low society, and he also culled, under the form of sketches, his flowers of evil. No one could render like Guys the elegant slenderness and sleekness of the racehorse, the dainty border on the skirt of a little lady drawn by her ponies, the pose of the powdered and befurred coachman on the box of a great chariot, with panels emblazoned with the coat of arms, going to a "drawing-room" accompanied by three footmen. He seems, in this style of drawing, fashionable and cursive, consecrated to the scenes of high life, to have been the precursor of the intelligent artists of "La Vie Parisienne," Marcelin, Hadol, Morin, Crafty. But, if Guys expressed, according to the principles of Brummel, dandyism and the allurements of the duckery, he excelled no less in portraying the venal nymphs of Piccadilly and the Argyle Rooms with their flash toilets and bold eyes. He was not afraid to occupy himself with the deserted lanes, and to sketch there, under the light of the moon or in the flickering glimmer of a gas-jet, a silhouette of one of the spectres of pleasure who haunt the streets of London. If he found himself in Paris, he followed the extreme fashions of the wicked place and what is known as the "coqueterie du ruisseau." You can imagine that Guys sought there only "character." It was his passion, and he separated with astonishing certainty the picturesque and singular side of the types from the allurements and costume of the time. Talent of this kind could not but charm Baudelaire, who, in effect, greatly esteemed Guys. We possessed about sixty drawings, sketches, aquarelles of this humorist, and we gave some of them to the poet. The present gave him great pleasure, and he carried it joyfully away.

Certainly he realised all that was lacking in these rough sketches, to which Guys himself attached not the slightest importance once they had been traced on wood by the clever engravers of the "Illustrated London News." But Baudelaire was struck by the spirit, the clear-sightedness, and powerful observation they displayed, literary qualities graphically translated in the language of line. He loved in these drawings the complete absence of antiquity—that is to say, of classical tradition—and the deep sentiment of what we call "decadence," for lack of a word more expressive of our meaning. But we know what Baudelaire understood by "decadence." Did he not say somewhere, à propos of these literary distinctions:—"It seems to me that two women are presented to me; the one a rustic matron, rude in health and virtue, without allurement or worth; briefly, owing nothing except to simple nature; the other, one of those beauties who dominate and fascinate the mind, uniting, with her powerful and original charm, all the eloquence of the toilet, mistress of her bearing, conscious and queen of herself, with a voice of harmonious melody, and dreamy gaze allowed to travel whither it will. My choice cannot be doubted, however many pedagogues reproach me with lack of classical honour?"

This so original comprehension of modern beauty turns the question, for it regards antique beauty as primitive, coarse, barbarous; a paradoxical opinion undoubtedly, but one which can be upheld. Balzac much preferred, to the Venus of Milo, a Parisienne élégante, delicate, coquettish, draped in cashmere, going furtively on foot to some rendezvous, her chantilly violet held to her nose, her head bent in such a way as to display, between the brim of her hat and the last fold of her shawl, the nape of a neck like a column of ivory, over which some stray curl glistens in the sunlight. This has its charms; but, for our part, we prefer the Venus of Milo.

With such ideas as these one can imagine that for some time Baudelaire was inclined towards the realistic school of which Courbet is the god and Manet the high-priest. But if certain sides of his nature were such as could be satisfied by direct, and not traditional, representation of ugliness, or at least of contemporary triviality, his aspirations for Art, elegance, luxury, and beauty led him towards a superior sphere. And Delacroix, with his febrile passion, his stormy colours, his poetical melancholy, his palette of the setting sun, and his clever expression of the decadence, was, and remained, his master by election.


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AUTHOR: Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
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