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

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    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
    Title of host publicationReproducing Images and Texts / La reproduction des images et des textes
    PublisherBrill Nijhoff
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Electronic)978-90-04-46833-7
    ISBN (Print)978-90-04-46832-0
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2021

    Publication series

    NameWord and Image Interactions
    PublisherBrill Nijhoff
    ISSN (Print)1388-3569


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


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