These are some paintings that come to my mind when I read Baudelaire and Rimbaud’s poetry. Mostly the works of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and other artists as well.
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863
The Jewels by Baudelaire
”My darling was naked, and knowing my heart well,
She was wearing only her sonorous jewels,
Whose opulent display made her look triumphant
Like Moorish concubines on their fortunate days.
She had lain down; and let herself be loved
From the top of the couch she smiled contentedly
Upon my love, deep and gentle as the sea,
Which rose toward her as toward a cliff.
Her eyes fixed upon me, like a tamed tigress,
With a vague, dreamy air she was trying poses,
And by blending candor with lechery,
Her metamorphoses took on a novel charm…”
Jeanne Duval, in a painting by Édouard Manet, 1862
To a Colonial Lady by Baudelaire
”In scented countries by the sun caressed
I’ve known, beneath a tent of purple boughs,
And palmtrees shedding slumber as they drowse,
A creole lady with a charm unguessed.
She’s pale, and warm, and duskily beguiling;
Nobility is moulded in her neck;
Slender and tall she holds herself in check,
An huntress born, sure-eyed, and quiet-smiling.
Should you go, Madam, to the land of glory
Along the Seine or Loire, where you would merit
To ornament some mansion famed in story,
Your eyes would bum in those deep-shaded parts,
And breed a thousand rhymes in poets’ hearts,
Tamed like the negro slaves that you inherit.” (Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire, New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)
Degas, Woman in the Bath, 1887
Venus Anadyomene by Rimbaud
”Out of what seems a coffin made of tin
A head protrudes; a woman’s, dark with grease –
Out of a bathtub! – slowly; then a fat face
With ill-concealed defects upon the skin.
Then streaked and grey, a neck; a shoulder-blade,
A back – irregular, with indentations –
Then round loins emerge, and slowly rise;
The fat beneath the skin seems made of lead;
The spine is somewhat reddish; then, a smell,
Strangely horrible; we notice above all
Some microscopic blemishes in front…
Horribly beautiful! A title: Clara Venus;
Then the huge bulk heaves, and with a grunt
She bends and shows the ulcer on her anus.”*
Paul Gauguin, Day of the Gods (Mahana no atua)1894
Exotic Perfume by Baudelaire
‘When, with closed eyes in autumn’s eves of gold,
I breathe the burning odour of your breasts,
Before my eyes the hills of happy rest
Bathed in the sun’s monotonous fires, unfold.
A langorous island, where Nature abounds
With exotic trees and luscious fruit;
And with men whose bodies are slim and astute,
And with women whose frankness delights and astounds.*
Led by that perfume to these lands of ease,
I see a port where many ships have flown
With sails out wearied of the wandering seas;
While the faint odours from green tamarisks blown,
Float to my soul and in my senses throng,
And mingle vaguely with the sailor’s song.’
Claude Monet, Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil, 1873
Autumn Song by Paul Verlaine
‘When a sighing begins
In the violins
Of the autumn-song,
My heart is drowned
In the slow sound
Languorous and longPale as with pain,
Breath fails me when
The hours toll deep.
My thoughts recover
The days that are over,
And I weep.And I go
Where the winds know,
Broken and brief,
To and fro,
As the winds blow
A dead leaf.
Odilon Redon, Ophelia, 1900-1905
Ophelia by Rimbaud
On the calm black water where the stars are sleeping
White Ophelia floats like a great lily ;
Floats very slowly, lying in her long veils…
– In the far-off woods you can hear them sound the mort.
For more than a thousand years sad Ophelia
Has passed, a white phantom, down the long black river.
For more than a thousand years her sweet madness
Has murmured its ballad to the evening breeze.
The wind kisses her breasts and unfolds in a wreath
Her great veils rising and falling with the waters ;
The shivering willows weep on her shoulder,
The rushes lean over her wide, dreaming brow.
The ruffled water-lilies are sighing around her ;
At times she rouses, in a slumbering alder,
Some nest from which escapes a small rustle of wings ;
– A mysterious anthem falls from the golden stars.
O pale Ophelia ! beautiful as snow !
Yes child, you died, carried off by a river !
– It was the winds descending from the great mountains of Norway
That spoke to you in low voices of better freedom.
It was a breath of wind, that, twisting your great hair,
Brought strange rumors to your dreaming mind ;
It was your heart listening to the song of Nature
In the groans of the tree and the sighs of the nights ;
It was the voice of mad seas, the great roar,
That shattered your child’s heart, too human and too soft ;
It was a handsome pale knight, a poor madman
Who one April morning sate mute at your knees !
Heaven ! Love ! Freedom ! What a dream, oh poor crazed Girl !
You melted to him as snow does to a fire ;
Your great visions strangled your words
– And fearful Infinity terrified your blue eye !
– And the poet says that by starlight
You come seeking, in the night, the flowers that you picked
And that he has seen on the water, lying in her long veils
White Ophelia floating, like a great lily.‘*
Pissarro, The Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning, 1897
The Seven Old Men by Baudelaire
To Victor Hugo
‘City swarming with people, how full you are of dreams!
Here in broad daylight, surely, the passerby may meet
A specter, — be accosted by him! Mystery seems
To move like a thick sap through every narrow street.
I thought (daybreak, it was, in a sad part of town)
“These houses look much higher in the fog!” — they stood
Like two gray quays between which a muddy stream flows down;
The setting of the play matched well the actor’s mood.
All space became a dirty yellow fog; I tried
To fight it off; I railed at my poor soul, whose feet,
Weary already, dragged and stumbled at my side.
Big wagons, bound for market, began to shake the street….‘ *
Édouard Manet, The Absinthe Drinker ( Le Buveur d’absinthe), 1859
Le Vin du solitaire by Baudelaire
‘The wildering glances of a harlot fair
seen gliding toward us like the silver wake
of undulant moonlight on the quivering lake
when Phoebe bathes her languorous beauty there;
the last gold coins a gambler’s fingers hold;
the wanton kiss of love-worn Adeline,
the wheedling songs that leave the will supine
— like far-off cries of sorrow unconsoled —
all these, o bottle deep, were never worth
the pungent balsams in thy fertile girth
stored for the pious poet’s thirsty heart;
thou pourest hope and youth and strength anew,
— and pride, this treasure of the beggar-crew,
that lifts us like triumphant gods, apart!‘ *
Jean-Louis Forain, Au Foyer du Théâtre, 1883
Pagan Prayer by Baudelaire
‘Don’t stint the fires with which you flare.
Warm up my dull heart to delight,
O Pleasure, torture of the sprite,
O Goddess, hear my fervent prayer!
Goddess, who through the ether pass,
Flame in this subterranean hole!
Raise up a chilled and stricken soul
Who lifts to you his peal of brass.
O Pleasure, always be my queen!
In flesh and velvet to be seen,
Mask your beauty like a siren:
Or else my soul with sleep environ
Drained from the formless mystic wine,
Elastic phantom! which is thine.’ *
— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)
Egon Schiele, Girl with black hair, 1910
The First Evening by Rimbaud
‘She was very much half-dressed
And big indiscreet trees
Threw out their leaves against the pane
Cunningly, and close, quite close.
Sitting half naked in my big chair,
She clasped her hands.
Her small and so delicate feet
Trembled with pleasure on the floor.
– The colour of wax, I watched
A little wild ray of light
Flutter on her smiling lips
And on her breast, – an insect on the rose-bush.
– I kissed her delicate ankles.
She laughed softly and suddenly
A string of clear trills,
A lovely laugh of crystal.
The small feet fled beneath
Her petticoat: “Stop it, do!”
– The first act of daring permitted,
Her laugh pretended to punish me!
– Softly I kissed her eyes,
Trembling beneath my lips, poor things:
– She threw back her fragile head
“Oh! come now that’s going too far!…
Listen, Sir, I have something to say to you…”
– I transferred the rest to her breast
In a kiss which made her laugh
With a kind laugh that was willing…
– She was very much half-dressed
And big indiscreet trees threw
Out their leaves against the pane
Cunningly, and close, quite close.‘*