Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life
Baudelaire’s writings coincided with the infamous Salon des in installment form in Figaro. The publication of the article coincided with the infamous Salon des Réfusés and the debut of Édouard Manet as an artist of scandal. Suddenly, what had been an indefinable concern, about content and technique in art making, became critical and current. Manet had presented a courtesan as a modern “Venus,” a prostitute as a modern “Nude,” and had quoted Renaissance artists, Raphael and Titian to do so. In addition, the painter had shunned “good” drawing and approved “finish” for a causal and notational manner of recording. The Painter of Modern Life made sense of what Manet had done to art—made painting “modern.”
There is a real question as to whether or not the “painter” of whom Baudelaire wrote was less important than the essay itself. Constantin Guys was crucial to the main point of the essay. Guys working methods were traditional in that he looked, he saw, he scribbled and then, using his memory, completed his thought later in a sketch-like record.
Baudelaire saw Guys as a bohemian hero, an outsider, the “observer, philosopher, flâneur” and as “the painter of the passing moment and of all the suggestions of eternity it contains.” Like Baudelaire, he, a “man of the crowd,” was a journalist who was trained to watch and look carefully, especially at the details. Baudelaire made the point, over and over, that the flâneur was someone who is traveling “incognito” or, in other words, the flâneur fades into the crowd, unnoticed.
I feel that this penultimate point of fading into a crowd is how I perceive my practice presently as I do not look to be noticeable.
The significant value of The Painter of Modern Life is what and whom Guys, the grown man, found interesting. “Modern Life,” for Baudelaire, appeared to be located among la bohème, which, in itself, was a creation of the modern world.