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Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867

Nationality: French
Date of Birth: 9 April 1821
Place of Birth: Paris
Place of Death: Paris


Charles-Pierre Baudelaire was a French poet, translator and critic of literature and art. He was the only child of François Baudelaire and his second wife Caroline Defayis, whom he had married in 1819. François was himself a poet and painter, who had begun his career as a priest, but later became a civil servant. After the death of Baudelaire's father in February 1827, his mother married a soldier, Jacques Aspic, who was to become a General and serve as French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and Spain.


Baudelaire was educated at the Collège Royal, Lyons, and then at the prestigious Lacèe Louis-le-grand when the family moved to Paris in 1836. It was during this time that Baudelaire began to show promise as a poet. In April 1839 he was expelled from school due because of his rebellious nature. He then began to study law at the École de Droit, whilst living in the Latin Quarter and becoming a part of the Parisian literary scene. It was at this point that he contracted a venereal disease. He received his inheritance in April 1842 and his lifestyle became increasingly dissipated.

Following a short trip to the South Seas, Baudelaire met Jeanne Duval, who was to become his mistress and the inspiration for his poetry. His continued extravagance quickly diminished his fortune and in September 1844 his family legally restricted his access to his inheritance. He accrued large debts, and suffered from bouts of depression.

He made a number of translations of the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, but it was his poetry collections Les Fleurs du mal (1857) and Petits poèmes en prose (1868) that made his reputation. These were extremely influential and evoked much controversy due to their sensual nature and provocative religious imagery. Baudelaire faced prosecution for obscenity and blasphemy. His writings on art and aesthetics were of key significance for the development of modernism in art. He produced reviews of the Salons and wrote extensively on the art of Delacroix. By contrast he considered the work of Ingres to be too eclectic, and that of the neoclassicists as insipid. He criticised Courbet's art as lacking in imagination. Modern urban artists such as Honoré Daumier and Charles Meryon received his praise in Peintres et aqua-fortistes (1862).

JW's realist scenes of the Thames were influenced by Baudelaire's On the Heroism of Modern Life (1845) in which he urged artists to paint modern city life. At this time Baudelaire expressed his admiration for JW's Symphony in White, No. I: The White Girl y038. They appear alongside each other in Fantin-Latour's group portrait Homage to Delacroix (1864).


Pichois, C. (ed.), Charles Baudelaire, oeuvres complètes, 2 vols, Paris, 1975-76; Pia, P., Baudelaire, Paris, 1952; P.-G. Castex, Baudelaire, critique d'art, Paris, 1969; Moss, A., Baudelaire et Delacroix, Paris, 1973; Pichois, C. and J. Ziegler, Baudelaire, Paris, 1987; Nicole Savy, 'Charles(-Pierre) Baudelaire', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 22.02.2002).