Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Painters of Modern Life

Charles Baudelaire, profile by
Manet, Edouard (1832 - 1883
Etching,  1869

 Portrait of Charles Baudelaire by
Manet, Edouard 

 Etching, 1869

Charles Baudelaire

The Heroism of Modern Life

"Before trying to isolate the epic quality of modern life and to show, by giving examples, that our age is no less rich than ancient times in sublime themes, it may be asserted that since every age and every people have had their own form of beauty, we inevitably have ours.... All forms of beauty, like all possible phenomena, have within them something eternal and something transitory -- an absolute and a particular element. Absolute and eternal beauty does not exist, or rather it is nothing but an abstract notion, creamed off from the general surface of different types of beauty. Parisian life is rich in poetic and wonderful subjects. The marvellous envelopes and saturates us like the atmosphere; but we fail to see it." -- pp. 104-107.

Charles Baudelaire from "The Salon of 1846"
Baudelaire; selected writings on art & artists, 
P.E. Charvet, ed., 1981.

The Painter of Modern Life

Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable. There was a form of modernity for every painter of the past; the majority of the fine portraits that remain to us from former times are clothed in the dress of their own day. They are perfectly harmonious works because the dress, the hairstyle, and even the gesture, the expression and the smile (each age has its carriage, its expression and its smile) form a whole, full of vitality. You have no right to despise this transitory fleeting element, the metamorphoses of which are so frequent, nor to dispense with it. If you do, you inevitably fall into the emptiness of an abstract and indefinable beauty, like that of the One and only woman of the time before the Fall. If for the dress of the day, which is necessarily right, you substitute another, you are guilty of a piece of nonsense that only a fancy-dress ball imposed by fashion can excuse. Thus the goddesses, the nymphs, and sultanas of the eighteenth century are portraits in the spirit of their day.

No doubt it is an excellent discipline to study the old masters, in order to learn how to paint, but it can be no more than a superfluous exercise if your aim is to understand the beauty of the present day. The draperies of Rubens or Veronese will not teach you how to paint watered silk d'antique, or satin à la reine, or any other fabric produced by our mills, supported by a swaying crinoline, or petticoats of starched muslin. The texture and grain are not the same as in the fabrics of old Venice, or those worn at the court of Catherine. We may add that the cut of the skirt and bodice is absolutely different, that the pleats are arranged into a new pattern, and finally that the gesture and carriage of the woman of today give her dress a vitality and a character that are not those of the woman of former ages. In short, in order that any form of modernity may be worthy of becoming antiquity, the mysterious beauty that human life unintentionally puts into it must have been extracted from it. It is this task that M. G. particularly addresses himself to.

Charles Baudelaire (1863)

Édouard Manet (1832 - 1883)
Le déjeuner sur l'herbe
("The Luncheon on the Grass")
Oil on canvas
208 cm × 265.5 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917)
Place de la Concorde
1875 Oil on canvas,
78.4 x 117.5 cm

Hermitage, St Petersburg

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 – 1901)
Au Moulin Rouge
1892, 1895
oil on canvas
123 × 140,5 cm

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841- 1919)
Le Moulin de la Galette 1876 

Oil on canvas, 131 x 175 cm;
Musée d'Orsay

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