BOOKS OF THE DAY
Baudelaire as Art-critic (Anthony Blunt) The Tree of Gernika (John Marks) . Lament for Econoniics (Honor Croome) Church and Community (Canon F. R. Barry) . .
Re-assessments of Marlowe (Kenneth Muir) .. Stuart Bilitical Thought (A. L. Rowse)..
The Lady of the White House (D. W. Brogan)
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236 Salute to Adventurers (Dr. H. H. Ba'hford) Sir Philip Sidney (Christopher Hobhouse) Summer Moonshine (John Hayward) Ballets Old and New (Adrian Stokes) Fiction (Kate- O'Brien) Current Literature
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BAUDELAIRE AS ART-CRITIC
By ANTHONY BLUNT
THE recent exhibition of paintings and drawings by Constantin Guys at the Leger Galleries was an invitation to turn again to Baudelaire's essay on that artist, Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne, one of the most penetrating comments on 19th-century painting and one of the most 'illuminating documents about the life of the Second Empire. Artists are traditionally considered to be incapable of making useful criticisms on arts other than their own, and though this may in general be true of the painter or the musician, it is only because they find difficulty in using the written word as a vehicle of expression, and not usually because they have no interesting views to express about the other arts. The case of writers is naturally different. They have the easiest means of conveying critical judgements at their com- mand, and though their view may be sometimes blurred by what is regarded as a literary point of view, they can often tell us much that the professional critics fail to notice. THE recent exhibition of paintings and drawings by Constantin Guys at the Leger Galleries was an invitation to turn again to Baudelaire's essay on that artist, Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne, one of the most penetrating comments on 19th-century painting and one of the most 'illuminating documents about the life of the Second Empire. Artists are traditionally considered to be incapable of making useful criticisms on arts other than their own, and though this may in general be true of the painter or the musician, it is only because they find difficulty in using the written word as a vehicle of expression, and not usually because they have no interesting views to express about the other arts. The case of writers is naturally different. They have the easiest means of conveying critical judgements at their com- mand, and though their view may be sometimes blurred by what is regarded as a literary point of view, they can often tell us much that the professional critics fail to notice.
It would be worth while to make an anthology of the views of great writers on painting and the other visual arts. There would be great variety of material. On the one hand would be writers like Diderot, Stendhal, Gautier or Hazlitt, who were almost professional critics for the moments when they turned their attention to painting. By them could be placed another group, in which the most important figures would be . Goethe and Tolstoy, who approach the arts as philosophers and whose contribution is more to aesthetics than to concrete criticism. Finally would come a series of writers who would in no sense claim to be experts in painting but who showed a remarkable insight into particular- problems concerned with it. Among these Baizac would rank high with his Chef-d'(Euvre Inconnu, which Cezanne wished every painter to read at least once a year. -Proust would take a prominent place not only for his architectural analyses in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu and his translations from Ruskin, but also for the sensitiveness with which he compares different types of character and beauty with the work of different painters. We could even include novelists like George Eliot, whose understanding of painting was prdhably not very extensive, but who gives in Romola a curiously Vivid and convincing picture of the Florentine studio of Piers di Cosirrio in the 15th century, and who could not have described the character of. Naumann in Middlemarch without a real feeling for the painting of the Nazarenes.
There are many other examples, but these are enough to show that it is unfair to dismiss poets or novelists who write about painting as dabblers who do not know what they are saying. Moreover, the so-called literary view of critics whose chief concern is with arts other than pairiting, can be of particular advantage to us at a moment when we are only too much inclined to talk of painting in wholly abstract terms and to forget that it is a human activity like all the other arts.
No poet has written more remarkably about painting than Baudelaire. He combines all the various approaches distin- guished above ; and he is equally at his ease whether he -con- siders painting from a philosophical, a technical or a historical point of view. But he was not only a remarkable theorist about the arts ; he also had a phenomenally acute eye for spotting the most significant artists working at his' time.- He was, for instance, one of. the firmest supporters of Delacroix at a time when the admirers of this painter• were still rare. But, on the other _hand, this .did not. blind him, as it -did most of those who loved- Delacroix, to ' the merits of the classical school. .He is fair if not enthusiastic about Ingres ; and ' he' compares David's Death Mawr to Balzac, which is • from Baudelaire the highest praise. These were, however, all painters of an older generation who had made names for them selves when Baudelaire came to admire them ; and it is in hi s judgement of his contemporaries that he seems to have shown such foresight. His friendship with Courbet is attested by the famous portrait, and by the fact that Baudelaire appears in the corner of Courbet's big allegorical painting, L'Atelicr. He writes with great sympathy of Dauanier, and he was among the first to acknowledge the talent of Manet, though from the very first he noticed the qualities which were later to turn Manet almost into a fashionable artist. He also encouraged the first steps of Whistler. But it was in Guys that Baudelaire made his most interesting discovery ; for he was the first to consider this artist seriously, and to make some attempt to draw him from the retirement and the firm anonymity behind which he concealed himself. In this Baudelaire failed, and in the essay which he devoted to Guys he was compelled by the artist to refer to him only as M. G.
Baudelaire regards Guys not as a mere technician but, as the title of the essay—Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne- suggests, as a man who has something to say about the life of his own time. He begins therefore with some general remarks about the relation of the arts to history : " The past is interesting not only for the beauty which the artists for whom it was the present were able to extract from it, but also as the past, for its historical value. The pleasure which we derive from the representation of the present does not depend solely on the beauty with which it may be invested, but also on its essential quality as the present." From here Baudelaire is led to consider what we could learn from looking at a series of vignettes of the different fashions in dress which have existed at various moments. " If one were to write down by the side of the vignette representing each period the philosophical idea about which that period had been most deeply concerned or excited—and each vignette will inevitably call up such an idea—one would see by what fundamental harmony all the parts of history are governed." And so it is as the painter of the present-past, " the painter of the incidental and of all the eternal suggested by it," that Baudelaire writes about Guys. He says of their first meeting : " I saw at once that I had to do not exactly with an artist but with a man of the world. Here you must take the word artist in a very restricted sense, and the term man of the world in a very wide sense. Man of the world means a man of the entire world, a man who understands the world, and the mysterious and lawful reasons for its ways ; artist means a specialist, a man tied to his palette like a serf to the soil."
This view of the arts is, of course, peculiarly well suited to the analysis of a painter like Guys who is almost entirely a peintre de mews ; but it also allows Baudelaire to see clearly the value and failings of other artists. It enabled him, for instance, to see the weakness of those Romantics, like Delaroche, who gavd themselves up wholly to the reconstruction of an imaginary past ; and to express the falseness of Millet's peasants in the phrase : " They are pedants who have too good an opinion of themselves." It is also the foundation of his story of the German peasant who asked a painter to do his portrait sitting outside his farm in the evening, surrounded by his family, his cows and his farm carts. " It is essential, the peasant went on, that you should paint the feeling of satisfaction which comes over me at that moment of the day, as I look round both at my family and at my wealth increased by another day's work." And Baudelaire theta adds : " Hurrah for that peasant ! Without knowing it, he understood painting."