My enchantment with the 1840s cannot be put in words for it is a decade that inspires me, fires my imagination, makes me quiver, and enriches my daydreams with its dark romantic aesthetics, beautiful portraits, saloon parties, sentimentality and melancholy, that atmosphere of the changing times; the fleeting nature of Romanticism which defined a whole decade.
In the 1840s Paris was still a rabbit warren of narrow, dark and dirty medieval streets, though some parts such as the boulevards and the quays of the Seine were clean and spacious. It was only in 1848. that Georges-Eugene Haussmann started with his gigantic public work projects for new wide boulevards, parks, a new opera house, a central market, new aqueducts, and sewers.
Politically, France was a liberal constitutional monarchy under Louis Philippe I, which lasted from July Revolution of 1830 to the French Revolution of 1848. This was Balzac’s Paris with the rise of the bourgeoisie, ambitious but poor students, filthy boarding houses, corrupted and greedy aristocrats, and poor old people who are unable to adapt to a new age, very different from the one they grew up in.
In these fleeting times when idealism was fading, slowly replaced by materialism (positivism), heroes vanished and common people took their place with common sorrows and troubles, exotic landscapes were replaced by cityscape; illusions were lost for a generation of young Romanticists and a new epoque illuminated Paris like a ray of sunshine. Still, there was an oasis of Romanticism in that half old-half new Paris, over and above, Romanticism developed quite late in France, but this place assembled the heroes of the evanescent times.
Charlotte Rothschild, aged only eighteen in 1843 when she married her English-born cousin Nathaniel Rothschild, was at the center of cultural events as her parents were very wealthy and artistically inclined, and, as such, they patronised a number of artists, writers and musicians such as Frederick Chopin, Honore de Balzac, Eugene Delacroix, Heinrich Heine and Gioacchinno Rossini. Frederick Chopin enchanted Parisian aristocratic saloons upon arriving in Paris in 1831, at the age of twenty one, after the ‘November 1830 Uprising‘ or the Polish-Russian war took place. Although homesick, Chopin was never to return to his dear homeland.
His new home was Paris, the center of Romanticism at the time, and the capital of European culture in general. His Parisian debut took place on 26 February 1832 at the Salle Pleyel. Liszt, who attended Chopin’s debut, later remarked ‘The most vigorous applause seemed not to suffice to our enthusiasm in the presence of this talented musician, who revealed a new phase of poetic sentiment combined with such happy innovation in the form of his art.‘ Soon after arriving in Paris, Chopin befriended E.Delacroix, Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz. He led a luxurious life, bohemian, but still dressed rather elegantly and showed some vain habits such as wearing a new pair of white gloves every day and riding in his own carriage. He loved the sophisticated Parisian lifestyle.
Young Charlotte had a privilege of being Chopin’s piano pupil in 1841, and he even dedicated his celebrated Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52. John Ogdon, twentieth century English composer and pianist later commented ‘It is the most exalted, intense and sublimely powerful of all Chopin’s compositions … It is unbelievable that it lasts only twelve minutes, for it contains the experience of a lifetime.‘ Charlotte was very lucky to have had the opportunity to grow up in a wealthy and culturally inclined family which allowed her to meet many famous artists and writers.
Growing up around the artistic friends of her parents left a lifelong mark on Charlotte who later befriended many other artists too, such as Edouard Manet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Henri Rousseau. Her passion for art did not stop there for she became a painter in her own right. She studied with Nelie Jacquemart and produced many profound watercolours and landscapes which earned her respect. Past weeks I’ve been wondering and daydreaming, then wondering again, how splendid would it be to spend your teenage years at the very center of Parisian Culture in Romanticism, and meet the legends such as Chopin, Victori Hugo, Balzac, Delacroix etc. I’m completely absorbed in these thoughts lately.
This is just one of the many aspects of the 1840s that I adore. There’s so much more about this beautiful decade: Jane Eyre and the Bronte sisters, first years of Queen Victoria’s reign, founding of the Pre-Raphalites Brotherhood in 1848, Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning…
The atmosphere, the portraits of ladies, the fashion, it all deeply engulfs me, enchants me, inspires me unutterably. The 1840s aesthetics are the epitome of the word ‘romantic’ for me; those ladies with their shiny silk dresses with sloping shoulders, slight gothic touch, their wild curls decorated subtly with a rose or two. Sentimentality and melancholy seem to pervade every pore of art and culture in the 1840s.
If you want to immerse yourselves in this Late Romanticism epoch, you can visit my Pinterest board for the visual part of my inspiration.