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Painted Poetry

Colour in Baudelaire’s Art Criticism


Ann Kennedy Smith

Before becoming a poet, Charles Baudelaire was an art critic; and he made his literary début with the Salon de 1845. Its failure to find a receptive audience led him to write the groundbreaking Salon de 1846 with its pivotal chapter on colour, in which Baudelaire challenged fundamental critical concepts of art by insisting on colour’s complexity, expressivity and modernity. Through a close reading of his critical essays on art, this book examines how Baudelaire’s thoughts on colour developed throughout his life and sets them in the context of traditional views of colour. What effect did the new scientific theories of colour harmony, filtered through his conversations with Delacroix and other artists, have on Baudelaire? Why did he see Daumier as a colourist, but not Ingres? What made him turn his back on French art in 1859 and which artist changed his mind? Baudelaire’s interest in a highly personal form of colour symbolism is investigated, as well as the part that colour plays in developing his later, central idea of a creative and poetic imagination capable of translating all the arts.


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Introduction 1


Introduction Although Baudelaire’s essays on art and artists are not exactly numerous – just four Salon and exhibition reviews, two essays on artists, one essay on laughter and a handful of short articles on caricaturists and etchers, they contain so many complex ideas that, as J.A. Hiddleston points out in Baudelaire and the Art of Memory (1999), a fully comprehensive study of the art criticism would be ‘a vast and highly complex undertaking’.1 On the other hand, restricting the focus of this book to Baudelaire’s approach to colour in art might not seem vast or complex enough. Why only colour, when Baudelaire’s writings are characterized by their diversity, shifts in emphasis, impassioned enthusiasms and fervent hatreds? Why colour in particular, when he writes so eloquently on sculpture, caricature, etching and photography as well as painting? And how seriously can we take his remarks on such an intrinsic part of art anyway, when he himself admits his susceptibility to an alluring subject matter, constantly reveals his liter- ary and poetic allegiances, and is at dif ferent stages preoccupied by wider concepts of modernity, beauty and the creative imagination? Some of the varied themes and inf luences in Baudelaire’s art criticism that have been explored in recent years include parallels with Chevreul by Bernard Howells and Jennifer Phillips, Michèle Hannoosh on the essays on etching and caricature and Timothy Raser on the use of narrative and citation in the Salon de 1859.2 Emily Salines and Sonya Stephens both 1 Baudelaire and the...

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