Baudelaire, Intellectual Talisman Along the Way to Impressionism

During tumultuous times there is often an individual, an intellectual talisman if you like, who watches events unfold and extracts the essence of what is happening into a text, which then provides a handbook for the oppressed. For the frustrated Paris-based artists battling with the Academy during the second half of the nineteenth century, Baudelaire was that individual, his essay, The Painter of Modern Life, the text.

… He claimed that ‘for the sketch of manners, the depiction of bourgeois life … [sic] there is a rapidity of movement which calls for an equal speed of execution from the artist’. …

… Baudelaire passionately believed that it was incumbent upon living artists to document their time, recognizing the unique position that a talented painter or sculptor finds him or herself in: ‘Few men are gifted with the capacity of seeing; there are fewer still who possess the power of expression …’ … He challenged artists to find in modern life ‘the eternal from the the transitory’. That, he thought, was the essential purpose of art – to capture the universal in the everyday, which was particular to their here and now: the present.

And the way to do that was by immersing oneself in the day-to-day of metropolitan living: watching, thinking, feeling and finally recording.

Will Gompertz, What Are You Looking At?, pp.28-29