In Search For Harmony With Baudelaire Analysis

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In Search for Harmony with Baudelaire and Matisse

Charles Baudelaire was involved in the general discussion on arts of his time: he for instance analyzed Eugène Delacroix’ techniques and dedicated his Les Fleurs du Mal to Théophile Gautier. His major work, Les Fleurs du Mal, can be seen as a conversation with other artists and has influenced many poets, writers, painters, … In the light of Baudelaire’s poetry, I will here focus particularly on Henri Matisse whose work was shaped by Baudelaire’s aesthetics: Matisse painted Luxe, calme et volupté, inspired by the “Invitation to the Voyage” (Baudelaire 99) and illustrated an edition of Les Fleurs du Mal.
One of Baudelaire’s and Matisse’s common feature is their emphasis on finding harmony:
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He uses vocabulary related to dreams: “Songe à la douceur” (Baudelaire 99), reminds us that all the scenes are actually happening in his mind: “Pour mon esprit” (Baudelaire 99) and uses the conditional tense: “Décoreraient”, “parlerait” (Baudelaire 100).
One can also notice, like Acquisto does, that, apart from the general setting of the poem in the then “exotic East” (“La splendeur orientale” Baudelaire 100), there is no geographical specificity; which shows that accuracy and reality are not important here, as in a dream.
It is also argued that in “L’Invitation au voyage”, Baudelaire is suggesting that “true seeing depends on the capacity to dream. Without it, the act of seeing remains anchored in the reality of the quotidian existence, the absolute antithesis of what is proposed in the poem” (Haskell 3). This is shown by the verbs used by the poet to ask his interlocutor to picture his dream. First he uses “Songe” (Baudelaire 99) and then uses “Vois” (Baudelaire 100), creating a parallel between the two
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Matisse, according to Carrier, is not a realist: “He shows the real world not as it is, but as seen aesthetically.” (81)
In Luxe, calme et volupté, Matisse is depicting seven female nudes “bathing and sunning at the water’s edge in Saint-Tropez” (Mattera). This composed Arcadian unreal world is an ideal world, it is an attempt to find a beautiful harmony away from reality. As the title indicates, calm and voluptuousness are encountered there. In that sense, Matisse is clearly following Baudelaire by depicting a dream.
Beyond the dream, Matisse is offering a full aesthetics experience, “Following Baudelaire, we might compare looking at Matisse’s images to being high on drugs. We see familiar things transfixed” (Carrier 83). The familiar things of reality are seen through the scope of a different aesthetics perspective –be it a dream, drugs or alcohol in the case of Baudelaire– that allows for a transcending of reality towards a harmonious ideal. The ultimate aim is, in Matisse’s own words reported by Carrier, “an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter” (MA, 38).”

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