Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), “Le palais de justice,” 1850. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais. © Petit Palais / Roger-Viollet. “The Caricature wages war on the government,” Baudelier wrote. “Daumier plays an important role in this permanent skirmish.”
Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877), “Portrait de Baudelaire,” 1848. Montpellier, musée Fabre. Photo © RMN Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz. When Baudelaire co-founded the ephemeral journal “La Salut Public” in 1848 — it lasted just two issues — it was Courbet who furnished the frontispiece.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak
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In a proposed addition to the preface of the third edition of “Les Fleurs du Mal,” published posthumously, Charles Baudelaire wrote: “If there’s any glory in not being understood, or in being barely understood, I can say in all modesty that, via this little book, I’ve acquired and merited it in one single blow. Offered many times in succession to a series of diverse publishers all of whom pushed it away in horror, pursued and mutilated, in 1857, following an incredibly bizarre misunderstanding, slowly renewed, enlarged, and fortified during some years of silence, vanished once more, this discordant product of the ‘muse des derniers jours,’ once more brightened up by some new violent touches, dares confront, grace of my insouciance, the bright light of stupidity. Don’t blame me; it’s the fault of an insistant publisher who thinks he’s strong enough to brave the disgust of the public. ‘This book will remain all your life like a blemish,’ one of my friends, a grand poet, predicted from the outset. In effect, all my misadventures have, up through now, proven him right.” But the poet not only subjected his own oeuvre to the light of the often ignorant public, critics, and government censors; he also tried to enlighten the public, as one of the premiere critics of Modern Art, helping to define the shape of the discourse along with his fellow Romantic Theophile Gautier (to whom “Les Fleurs du Mal” is dedicated). Retracing the line of this ‘aesthetic curiosity’ — with frequent links to specific critical texts by the author — is the focus of L’oeil de Baudelaire, an exhibition running through January 20 at the Musée de la Vie romantique in Paris to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Baudelaire’s death. Among the works exposed — many bridging the Romantic and Impressionist epochs — are paintings, sculptures, and prints by Corot, Manet, Delacroix, Octave Tasseart, and, above, Courbet and Daumier. (Source for citation: Charles Baudelaire, “Les Fleurs du Mal,” texte de la Seconde Edition suivi des pieces supprimées en 1857 et des addditions de 1868. Edition Critique établie par Jacques Crépet et Georges Blin. Librairie Jose Corti, Paris, 1942.)