Baudelaire's friendship


Baudelaire wrote to Manet in June 1865: "i don't care a damn for the human race." And, confident of his friend's complicity, he added: "You realize of course, my dear Manet, that this is all strictly between ourselves." At about the same time, in a defiant letter to his mother, he wrote, characteristically: "I should like to stir up the whole human race against me; in universal hostility I see a kind of satisfaction that would console me for everything else."
Whatever the consolations Baudelaire sought, however, Manet could not share them. He was not the man to make light of the rest of the world. He was not conceited enough for that. He hung back, unable either to snap his fingers at others or to come to terms with them. In Manet there was none of those dark, eruptive forces, the curse of Baudelaire's life and at the same time the source of his withering irony; had Manet possessed these he might have asserted himself more forcibly. As it was, he steered a non-committal course. Beside Baudefaire's personality his own seems almost insignificant. Yet, though he bid for its approval, he stood head and shoulders above the crowd of his day, which never did homage to anything authentically great, and borne on by his modesty, by his impersonality, he in the end accomplished more than Baudelaire.
As far as painting went, Baudelaire swore by Delacroix and the twilight beauties of an art that by now had become pointless. It is true that he encouraged Manet's early efforts, but he had nothing to give him in the way of effective support or guidance. He seems to have urged him "to go Spanish," though for the painter himself this was only a passing phase, not to say a dead end. The only pictures he is known to have genuinely liked are those curious compositions, often very fine, that Manet made in Paris, generally from such Spanish models as he could find to pose for him. One of the best of these is The Spanish Ballet, in which he blended "what he saw" with a desire to achieve an exotic effect. Similar to these is Baudelaire's Mistress; here, on the basis of a brilliant simplification, Manet transposed the merely picturesque into a delicate fugue of lace and calico. Baudelaire was fond of such pictures, though probably he courted the younger man's admiration ( Manet was eleven years his junior) more than he really admired his work. Manet came of a wealthy family, lent him money in times of need (at his death in 1867 he owed Manet 500 francs, which were paid by his mother, Madame Aupick) and generously rendered him various services in Paris while Baudelaire was away in Belgium.
Champion of an inspired, intensely personal art, a brilliant rather than a profound mind, Baudelaire had little to give Manet apart from the stimulus of friendship, the awareness of an inner world and the promise of secret riches for the man willing to go in quest of them. This was a gift precious enough in itself, but no doubt it only served to mystify Manet. Yet he must have taken to heart not only Baudelaire's fundamental maxim, to the effect that beauty is "always a little strange," but also this reflection of the poet's, which occurs in his review of the 1845 Salon: "The painter, the true painter to come, will be he who wrests from the contemporary scene its epic side and shows us, through line and color, how great and poetic we are in our cravats and patent-leather boots."
By 1860 Concert at the Tuileries--in which we see Baudelaire himself, mingling with the crowd--had met these specifications, but it is not likely that the poet thought very highly of the picture. Though he reverted many times to themes of contemporary life, the painter of Olympia somehow always eluded the formal laws his friend laid down. Manet only deferred to Baudelaire's theories in one respect: he valued imagination (though this was precisely what he lacked) above nature, and this pitted him squarely against the trend of his time.
Manet never raised his voice or sought to lord it over others. He suffered in silence and worked hard to get clear of what, for him, was a wasteland. Nothing and nobody could help him. In this venture his only guide was a kind of impersonal anguish. It was not the painter's anguish alone, for it had spread, though they did not realize it, to the scoffers and revilers as well, who lay in wait for the paintings which were so repulsive to them then, but which in time filled the yawning emptiness of their hollow souls.
Manet, on whom their repulsion fed, was the exact opposite of the man who is possessed by an idée fixe, a personal image constantly before him that he must continually renew and vary at all costs. The solutions Manet tested out were not solutions for himself alone. What inspired him as much as anything was the prospect, for him an act of grace, of entering a new world of forms which would deliver him, and with him the others, from the bondage, the monotony, the falsehood of art forms that had served their time.

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