Thursday, July 01, 2004

Mallarme, Manet, and the Belle Epoch in Paris

Mallarme, Manet, and the Belle Epoch in Paris Provides an essay on 19th Century Paris. Focuses on the Belle Epoch and the role of the poet Mallarme and the impressionist Manet.

From the site:

By the nineteenth century, Paris was the world center for art, literature, and music. In the latter part of the century, art and poetry began to deviate from traditions sanctioned by the official Salon and art and poetry critics. Some of the transformation began in1862 when the Parisian-born painter Edouard Manet combined a “current social subject and an unconventional tonal style in “La Musique aux Tuileries” which […] was influential to a new artistic outlook.” (Gowing, 630) A year later Manet grabbed public attention when he exhibited Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe in the Salon de Refuses in 1863. Many Parisians and art critics found the painting vulgar because it portrayed classic nude women having a picnic with fully clothed men. His choice of subject matter, which reflected contemporary society, would continue to confound critics and the public alike throughout his career. In poetry, a committee of three poets rejected an early version of Stephane Mallarme’s most popular poem, “L’Apres-midi d’un faune” for the third volume of the poetry anthology, “Le Parnasse contemporain", published in the mid 1860s.

Le Dejeuner sur l’h herbe and L’Apres-midi d’un faune represented a change in art and poetry and both can be considered deviants from tradition. However, while both of these works were created in the 1860s, the greatest transformation of art and poetry from traditional to modern occurred during the Belle Epoch (1871-1914). A modern world emerged during the Belle Epoch. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the bicycle appeared in Paris, the Lumiere brothers made the first short film, Gustave Eiffel built the Eiffel Tower, and Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur made major contributions to science and medicine. According to Rosemary Lloyd, in her book Mallarme: the Poet and His Circle of Friends, “this was a time in which writers and artists were intensely involved in exploring contemporary society. (77) The best-known group involved in exploring modern society was the Impressionists—Pierre Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas and a few others. They were known for their use of vivid colors, unique brush styles and tendency (except for Degas) to paint outside. I believe that the friendships existing between artists and poets can be credited with contributing a great deal to the modern art and literature that came from Paris during the Belle Epoch. The Impressionists just mentioned were all good friends and their circle included Stephane Mallarme and Edouard Manet. Although Manet did not exhibit with the Impressionists when they held their Salon de independents from 1874 to 1886 and did not embrace the title of “Impressionist”, he was considered their leader. The slightly older Manet developed modern thinking about art with his unique brush style and choices of contemporary subjects and settings. Stephane Mallarme rejected the metrical rhythms and themes that marked the Parnassian style popular in the day, in order to achieve a free, more prose-like verse. As for theme, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Mallarme sought to describe “the fleeting immediate sensations of man’s inner life and experience.” (458) In my opinion, part of the reason why approaches to poetry and painting progressed was due to the close friendships that evolved in Paris. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss the importance of the friendship between Mallarme and Manet and explain how it contributed toward their creative endeavors.

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