Baudelaire’s Prodigal Constantin: Guys, Illustration and the Urban ‘Spirituel’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article re-examines Baudelaire’s critical portrait of the illustrator Constantin Guys, Le Peintre de la vie moderne. It aims to shed new light on the article’s under-explored relationships with Romantic art, in relation to Baudelaire’s parallel concerns with an uncanny modernity unfolding in a vision of art, both urban and spiritual. Arguably the best-known of Baudelaire’s writings on visual art, the emblematic “modern-life” hero, the flâneur par excellence, Baudelaire’s Guys has become for many scholars of French literature and visual art, a trailblazer of nineteenth-century modernism freighted with ideas of artistic alienation and its legacies. This exploration challenges such perceptions, in particular, Benjaminian perspectives which reify and reproduce Guys as an “outsider” figure, synonymous not only with the perceived marginality of illustration to “high” art, but also as the emblematic bearer of a modernist art of fragmentation. Rather, taking as a starting-point overlooked connections between Baudelaire’s emerging interest in Guys in the 1850s and its entwining with his Romantic and newer concerns with evoking a shadow modernity, my aims are to prompt fresh questions about the vision of urban modernity of Guys and his presentation in Baudelaire’s essay which, for many, has become canonical. First, is to consider unexplored writing contexts, illuminating pivotal, yet neglected artistic connections for the genesis of Baudelaire’s Le Peintre de la vie moderne. Second, is to explore their relations with Baudelaire’s emerging preoccupations with ideas of synthesis and alterity to shape an urban, Gothic uncanny, yet with its prodigal exemplum in Guys’ illustrations. In so doing, the conclusions seek to open fresh perspectives on Le Peintre de la vie moderne’s apparent binaries of modernity to reaction; romantic synthesis to alienation; form and ephemera; reproduction and alterity, offering new insights into its more complex, nuanced engagement with its central question about Guys’ artistic creation as a torchbearer not of alienation, but of a potent urban and spiritual art
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-press)
Number of pages10
JournalWord and Image
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Feb 2019


  • Modern art
  • image cultures
  • illustration
  • art writing
  • memory

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  • Activities

    • 2 Invited talk
    • 1 Examination

    ‘Walter Benjamin’s Uncanny Artists: Reisebilder, Memory and Iconic Presences’

    Juliet Simpson (Keynote speaker)
    27 Jun 2019

    Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk

    Aby Warburg's Transnational 'Primitives'

    Juliet Simpson (Keynote speaker)
    12 May 2018

    Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk

    PhD External Examiner, University of Kent, Université de Paris, Sorbonne

    Juliet Simpson (Examiner)
    1 May 201530 Jul 2015

    Activity: Examination

    Research Output

    Nordic Devotions: Gothic Art as Erotic Affect: ― J.- K. Huysmans’s and Maurice Barrès’s Decadent Devotio Moderns

    Simpson, J., 11 Jul 2019, Nordic Literature of Decadence. Rossi, R., Lyytikäinen, P., Parente-Čapková, V. & Hinrikus, M. (eds.). UK/USA: Routledge, p. 276-294 18 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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