The Poems and Prose Poems|
of Charles Baudelaire: Preface, Page 7
by James Huneker (1919).
As Richard Wagner was his god in music, so Delacroix quite overflowed his aesthetic consciousness. Read Volume II of his collected works, Curiositiés Esthétiques, which contains his Salons; also his essay, De l'Essence du Rire (worthy to be placed side by side with George Meredith's essay on Comedy). Caricaturists, French and foreign, are considered in two chapters at the close of the volume. Baudelaire was as conscientious as Gautier. He trotted around miles of mediocre canvas, saying an encouraging word to the less talented, boiling over" with holy indignation or indulging in glacial irony, before the rash usurpers occupying the seats of the mighty, and pouncing on new genius with promptitude. Upon Delacroix he lavished the largesse of his admiration. He smiled at the platitudes of Horace Vernet, and only shook his head over the Schnetzes and other artisans of the day. He welcomed William Hausollier, now so little known. He praised Devéria, Chasseriau — who waited years before he came into his own; his preferred landscapists were Corot, Eousseau and Troyon. He impolitely spoke of Ary Scheffer and the "apes of sentiment"; while his discussions of Hogarth, Cruikshank, Pinelli and Breughel proclaims his versatility of vision. In his essay Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne he was the first among critics to recognize the peculiar quality called "modernity," that naked vibration which informs the novels of Goncourt, Flaubert's L'Education Sentimentale, and the pictures of Manet, Monet, Degas and Raffaelli with their evocations of a new, nervous Paris. It is in his Volume III, entitled L'Art Romantique, that so many things dear to the new century were then subjects of furious quarrels. This book contains much just and brilliant writing. It was easy for Nietzsche to praise Wagner in Germany in 1876, but dangerous at Paris in 1861 to declare war on Wagner's adverse critics. This Baudelaire did.
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The relations of Baudelaire and Edouard Manet were exceedingly cordial. In a letter to Théophile Thoré, the art critic (Letters, p. 361), we find Baudelaire defending his friend from the accusation that his pictures were pastiches of Goya. He wrote: "Manet has never seen Goya, never El Greco; he was never in the Pourtalés Gallery." Which may have been true at the time, 1864, nevertheless Manet had visited Madrid and spent much time studying Velasquez and abusing Spanish cookery. (Consider, too, Goya's Balcony with Girls and Manet's famous Balcony.) Eaging at the charge of imitation, Baudelaire said in this same epistle: "They accuse even me of imitating Edgar Poe. ... Do you know why I so patiently translated Poe? Because he resembled me." The poet italicized these words. With stupefaction, therefore, he admired the mysterious coincidences of Manet's work with that of Goya and El Greco.
He took Manet seriously. He wrote to him in a paternal and severe tone. Recall his reproof when urging the painter to exhibit his work. "You complain about attacks, but are you the first to endure them? Have you more genius than Chateaubriand and Wagner ? They were not killed by derision. And in order not to make you too proud I must tell you that they are models, each in his way, and in a very rich world, while you are only the first in the decrepitude of your art." (Letters, p. 436.)
Would Baudelaire recall these prophetic words if he were able to revisit the glimpses of the Champs Elysées at the Autumn Salons? What would he think of Césanne? Odilon Redon he would understand, for he is the transposer of Baudelairianism to terms of design and colour. And perhaps the poet whose verse is saturated with tropical hues — he, when young, sailed in southern seas — might appreciate the monstrous debauch of form and colour in the Tahitian canvases of Paul Gauguin.
Baudelaire's preoccupation with pictorial themes may be noted in his verse. He is par excellence the poet of aesthetics. To Daumier he inscribed a poem; and to the sculptor Ernest Christophe, to Delacroix (Sur Tasse en Prison), to Manet, to Guys (Rêve Parisien), to an unknown master (Une Martyre); and "Watteau, a Watteau à rebours, is seen in Un "Voyage à Cythere; while in Les Phares this poet of the ideal, spleen music, and perfume, shows his adoration for Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Puget, Goya, Delacroix — "Delacroix, lac de sang hanté des mauvais anges." And what is more exquisite than his quatrain to Lola de Valence, a poetic inscription for the picture of Edouard Manet, with its last line as vaporous, as subtle as Verlaine: "Le charme inattendu d'un bijou rose et noir!" Heine called himself the last of the Romantics. The first of the "Moderns" and the last of the Romantics was the many-sided Charles Baudelaire.
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