baudelaire-new-cleoThese days, clever curatorial concepts too often serve as just re-packaging to assemble a top 40 of art history or re-package an artist who’s already been over-played, to the detriment of lesser-known, often forgotten figures. (I, for one, would rather see the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris haul out its 100+ trove of the erotic, industrial, pastoral, and war-themed paintings, lithographs, and prints of Marcel Gromaire than, yawn, the exhibition it’s currently presenting on the one-dimensional Bernard Buffet.) But Robert Kopp, Charlotte Manzini, and Jerome Farigoule take the assignment of “L’oeil de Baudelaire,” or “Baudelaire’s Eye,” their exhibition running through January 20 at the Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris, seriously. The paintings, prints, and sculptures on view, including work from Camille Corot, Delacroix, Ingres, and Daumier, aren’t just presented as stuff that Charles Baudelaire liked, but are paired with his published critical commentaries of the work in question. And these essays often illuminate the vital role the critic can play in countering sanctioned opinion and encouraging under-appreciated artists. For example, the current exhibition features just a morsel (above), “Cleopatra (Servant),” of Théodore Chasseriau’s “Cleopatra committing suicide,” the 26-year-old artist having mutilated the painting after it was refused by the Salon of 1845. (Chasseriau died in 1856 at the age of 37.) The rejection didn’t stop Baudelaire from writing of Chasseriau, in his book on the salon, “The position that he wants to create between Ingres, of whom he is the pupil, and Delacroix, who he wants to dethrone, presents an image that is somewhat equivocal for the public and somewhat embarassing for him. That M. Chasseriau finds his wealth in Delacroix, fine; but that, despite all the talent and the precocious experience he’s acquired, he makes it so obvious — therein lies the problem…. But with his distinguished tastes and active spirit, all the signs are there to hope that he’ll become a painter — and an eminent one.” Chasseriau’s work did, indeed, continue to evolve, particularly after a voyage to Algeria in 1846. Through commissioned work at the Saint-Merri church and the Cour des Comptes (so says my “Petit Robert”), he contributed to the renewal of the art of mural painting. Successors such as Gustave Moreau and Puvis de Chavannes were influenced by him. Image of oil on canvas from the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Marseille courtesy Musée de la Vie Romantique. — Paul Ben-Itzak

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