The Painter of Modern Life


by Charles Baudelaire (1821 - 1867)

A string of eleven mini-essays praising the artist Constantin Guys for seeking ‘the fugitive, fleeting beauty of present-day life’ in almost journalistic watercolour sketches, rather than imitating Old Masters over-literally as others then did.

Baudelaire begins by finding an ‘idiomatic beauty peculiar to each age’ in some fashion-plates, and returns to defend women’s cosmetics towards the end. His aesthetic theory could apply equally to poetry and writing – the distilling process of mnemonic art, the idea of childlike perceptiveness, the link to the flâneur in his element amid the modern crowd – and his description of ‘dandyism’ in part IX is definitive.

Related recommendation: Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Decay of Lying’ (1891)

Origin: France

Themes: Walking, Familiar Examined Afresh, Modernity and Self-consciousness, The role of Art or Artists

Genres: Feuilleton

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