He is a man of genius and an inventor. Like Lami he is a genuine artist moved to self-expression by the passing show; but there the likeness ends. Guys is like no one who came before him; he is not a caricaturist, for he never condemns, satirises or denounces; he is not a sentimental anecdotist, for he neither pities, prattles nor approves.
( 1902-1892). French artist; born in Vlissingen, Holland; died in Paris at the age of ninety, destitute. The modesty of Constantin Guys, who rarely signed his drawings and water-colours and wished to be mentioned only by his initials, has left historians without precise details of his stormy life. Until 1860 he was a correspondent for the Illusrated London News, and he sent his drawings from Spain, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Egypt or the Crimea, to be made into woodcuts. But this great traveller did not need to leave Paris to find something marvellous at every step. His studies of certain social milieux have, with time, taken on the value of documentary evidence of types and fashions. Baudelaire has described Guys at work, bent over twenty sketches, emphasizing with water-colours a light pencil outline, deepening certain shadows, brightening certain lights and, like Daumier, composing only from memory. His palette, at first very intense, rich in reds and saffron yellows, took on a calmer tone as his touch became broader, and he put more and more feeling into his organization of values. War, Pomp and Solemnity, Soldiers, Dandies, Women, Prostitutes, Carriages -- these classifications handed down to us by Baudelaire are still the most convenient for Guy's immense production, which, though very uneven, raises him above the minor masters. Sensitive to the slightest vibrations of the present, interested in every kind of spectacle, retaining only the essentials of a movement or a character, reproducing faithfully individual traits or deviations, he always subordinated anecdote to style. Prostitutes transformed into dream girls, carriages transformed into fairy coaches, everything -- even the very background which contributes so actively to the life of every composition -escapes literal or prosaic transcription. Thanks to Guys, the days of crinoline, tasselled shoes and beautiful courtesans still live on. 'The painter of modern life', as Baudelaire called him, he has left us an idealized picture of his epoch, where the annalist is even surpassed by the visionary.
Without Constantin Guys that essentially modern reaction to contemporary life, that passionate but impartial preoccupation with the actual and evanescent, could hardly have been rendered in line. Visually he is the benefactor of us all, for he has added a scrap of delectable territory to the province of the eyes. Not only painters, but novelists and intelligent lookerson, Jean Cocteau and Aldous Huxley, Paul Morand and Virginia Woolf, all the bright and disinterested amateurs of evening parties and port-side cafés, all owe him something. So, while that magnificent and loquacious eclectic Courbet was ranting Realism and painting Hals-Riberas, here was the authentic and unknown realist, accepting life as it passed and fixing in definite, permanent forms his glimpse of the unfixable.