Recently published, an unprecedented work: Baudelaire è vivo. I Fiori del Male tradotti e raccontati by Giuseppe Montesano, already the author of Lettori Selvaggi, an infinite Pandora's box dedicated to the history of human creativity.
In this case, however, we find the story of a single poet, considered the greatest of modernity.
Baudelaire's poetry is a fundamental dividing line between what he was and what came after him, so much so that the appellation of the cursed poet has become meaningless. Although he was certainly a contradictory character, eternally poised between light and darkness, he was impossible to pigeonhole.
In fact, according to Montesano, reducing Baudelaire to a mere symbolist or decadent macchietta would mean nullifying the form of a poetics that encompasses the past, is written in the 19th century but concerns us. Baudelaire's writing is magical, enthralling, ready to open unexpected and unexplored doors. A poetics that makes it constantly alive, eternally linked to a time to come!
The Paris-World of more than two centuries ago is, in fact, a city destined to repeat itself and to fascinate in a perpetual motion that the extraordinariness of Montesano's texts is able to capture. His translations reach out to readers, providing indispensable critical apparatus.
Jumping ahead a few years, we find ourselves in 1886, a crucial year for the birth of modern art.
The critic and historian John Rewald, author of two essential volumes for anyone wishing to deepen their knowledge of Impressionist painters and their successors, knew this well: The History of Impressionism, published by Johan & Levi, in 2019 and After Impressionism, published by Sansoni, out of print.
It is no coincidence, as we were saying, that the choice of a symbolic date has fallen on the year in which Seurat finished La Grande Jatte and placed the viewer at the centre of a dialogue that no longer presupposes mere observation, but an exercise in completion where nothing is left to chance.
Starting with Rewald's volumes and Seurat's painting, we come naturally to a pivotal figure of the whole period: Félix Fénéon, hailed by his contemporaries as the first 'scientific critic'. His Revue Indépendente recruited collaborators from the ranks of the last verists and from those of the new decadents, first and foremost Huysmans.
Huysmans took up Gustave Moreau's ideal: the dream as a catalyst and the imaginary as a primary source of inspiration. This leads to the need to create a world that has never existed before. Think of Des Esseintes, the protagonist of Huysmans' Au Rebours. He is a key character in the whole decadent current, with his unbridled love for illusion, the false, the ephemeral, which take on a new meaning.
However, Fénéon himself could compete with real people for the sceptre of dandy, as the Musée d'Orsay's book Félix Fénéon. Critique, collectionneur, anarchiste testifies, tracing his incredible biography and focusing on this enigmatic figure, of whom we know many anecdotes, but how many truths?
This extraordinary catalogue analyses his exploits, focusing on his multifaceted collection of artworks (describing him as an 'insatiable collector') and on the writings that highlighted his undeniable fascination for the entire artistic scene of the time. Articles were often written under a pseudonym, in which he emphasised his pioneering vision of art, with an eye for the new and the unprecedented.
During his long career, he edited Rimbaud and supported Seurat at the dawn of the pointillist movement. Fénéon became acquainted with Seurat's art at the Exposition des Indépendants in 1884, where he was enchanted by Une Baignade à Asurères. They met in person (as chance would have it!) in 1886 and not even Seurat's premature death would interrupt their association, as the critic promoted his work until the end of his life.
Without straying far from this historical period, we find another noteworthy book.
The book Le Cabaret du Chat Noir by Richard Khaitzine (1997), is the definitive compendium for rediscovering the history of what was the most important club in the bohemian Parisian circle at the end of the 19th century and which laid the foundations for all future cabarets, laying down the law among the various artistic and literary movements of the time.
Khaitzine's text, revised and corrected, is a historical, political and artistic excursus that never ceases to fascinate, without skimping on the details that made Rodolphe Salis' 'creature' an eternal point of reference.
Le Chat Noir was born as a shadow theatre and cabaret located in the heart of Montmartre, in Paris, in 1881 and was a 'selective' venue entirely for painters and poets, who began to write in a magazine of the same name to promote its initiatives. The figure of the artist had abandoned the dark and sacred aura of Baudelaire’s time for a more playful meaning.
Salis himself, without false modesty, used to emphasise this change, stating that:
God created the world, Napoleon the Legion of Honour, but I created Montmartre!