Baudelaire’s “the Flowers of Evil” Illustrated by Matisse
When the work of two rebels collides, the result can only be a wonder.
Although censure took umbrage at him since then, The Flowers of Evil by the extraordinary French poet Charles Baudelaire was published for the first time in 1857. Both, for the choice of themes and the risks it runs by proposing new portraitures of women, sexual relations and the acceptance of one’s own perversity, the book represents an aesthetic (albeit not formal) rupture within the French poetic tradition and with any other.
Numerous painters have faced the “translation to image” of this unclassifiable work: From Gustave Rodin to Georges Rouault to Emile Bernard or Jacob Epstein. Henri Matisse’s illustrations, however, by proposing a visual companion more than a “proper” graphic version or a mere translation of the poems’ imagery, distance themselves from the ensemble of illustrated versions
This edition is comprised of 33 portraits (including one of Baudelaire and a self-portrait), but mostly of women. The gallery of female faces, however, does not intend to fall in the sterile autobiographic fallacies that have historically polluted the reading of the book: this is not a series of faces but a visual companion to the apparent solitude in which the reader finds himself when he begins reading the book —and we say “apparent” because we cannot be completely alone if we have a book with us.
The Bibliothèque Française published this edition in 1857, but as extraordinary as it may seem, the official censorship of the book was not lifted until 1949, almost a century after it was published. The abridged edition (“mutilated” according to Baudelaire) left six poems out; two of them because of their references to female homosexuality, and another four due to their references to sadomasochism.
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