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Painted Poetry

Colour in Baudelaire’s Art Criticism

Series:

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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CHAPTER 2 Colour Vision: The Science of Seeing 47

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Chapter 2 Colour Vision: The Science of Seeing Les af finités chimiques sont la raison pour laquelle la nature ne peut pas commettre de fautes dans l’arrangement de ces tons; car, pour elle, forme et couleur sont un. Le vrai coloriste ne peut pas en commettre non plus; et tout lui est permis, parce qu’il connaît de naissance la gamme des tons, la force du ton, les résultats des mélanges, et toute la science du contrepoint, et qu’ il peut ainsi faire une harmonie de vingt rouges dif férents. (S46, 424) A New Type of Salon Right from the beginning of his very first Salon, the Salon de 1845, Baudelaire wishes to make things clear: ‘M. Delacroix est décidément le peintre le plus original des temps anciens et des temps modernes’ (S45, 353) he states. These are his first words, immediately following his quelques mots d’introduction, and they are placed there both to stop the reader in his tracks and to set out Baudelaire’s statement of intent: to be an art critic with a dif ference. With this single, peremptory, sentence he does away with the hesitations and qualifications of even those critics he admires and who have been most disposed towards Delacroix, including Gautier, Thoré and Champf leury, all of whom praised the artist extensively while never quite letting go of their doubts about his drawing style. Baudelaire will have none of this: ‘Aucun des amis de M. Delacroix, et des plus...

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