Intellectual Talisman, Baudelaire

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 … there is a rapidity of movement which calls for an equal speed of execution of the artist’. Sound familiar? The essay goes on to feature several references to the word ‘flâneur‘, the concept of a man-about-town, which Buudelaire was responsible for bringing to the public’s attention, describing the role thus: ‘Observer, philosopher, flâneur – call him what you will… the crowd is his element, as the air is that of the birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profssion are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.’

There was no better provocation for the Impressionists to go out and paint en plein air. Baudelaire passionately believed that it was incumbent upon living artists to document their time…

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

Will Gompertz, What Are You Looking At? 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye pp. 28-29