The Impressionists – Introducing ‘Le Flâneur’

We’ve explored how painters like Renoir and Degas concerned themselves with capturing scenes of the capital by day and by night, an occupation which stemmed from Paris opening like a cultural flower in the mid-19th century – its new environs practically buzzing with diversions to catch the eye. The monolithic intentions of city planner Baron Charles Hausmann spawned grand boulevards, squares and plazas – all of which created an urban playground for those in its sprawling network. In my introductory article, I briefly mentioned the ‘flâneur’ in passing as an arm of Baudelaire’s social studies. I intend to bring this character to life through a brief sketch of the century’s much emulated ‘man of the moment’.

Figures, including a self-portrait (detail), Édouard Manet, Music in the Tuileries Gardens, 1862, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 118.1 cm (The National Gallery, London)

In the writings of Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Baudelaire makes evident the existence of the social observer and interpreter. In Parisian society, the artistic aim was to define and describe the new phenomenon of modernity which established itself against an urban environment and “crowd” culture of participants and spectators. Baudelaire has urged painters to capture their ‘own time’ given the transitory crisis of content and technique1and believed the ‘hero of modern life’2 to be well-educated, cultivated, amongst the bohemian and an outsider, this criteria manifested itself in ‘le flâneur’ or ‘dandy’3.

“Le Flâneur” – Paul Gavarni, 1842.

The dandy straddled society, belonging neither to the bourgeoisie or ‘crowd’ but standing apart from it and watching. Given distinction, the dandy was free to walk the city at his own leisure and observe the passer’s by and polite society at large from their own vantage point. They became a source in themselves given this watchful presence and access to all forms of leisure across Paris. Haussmann’s arcades promoted the culture of spectacle and looking, of being observed in public and assessed at a glance4. This ties in with the expansion of the press and of gossip columns in the 19th century.


Images from ‘Physiology of the Flâneur’, Louis Huart, 1841

Baudelaire identifies the dandy through his dress, in a new uniform of ‘habit noir’5, a distinguished black suit giving him status and an air of worldly sophistication. The dandy embodies the notion of casual observation and this motif runs through leisure painting of the nineteenth-century. The viewer of ‘Place de la Concorde’, ‘Dance at le Moulin de la Gallette’ and ‘Woman on a Cafe Terrace in the Evening’ are a party to this form of observation and commentary, whilst the motif of the dandy or gentleman links these displays of leisure together.

Place de la Concorde’, ‘Dance at le Moulin de la Gallette’ and ‘Woman on a Cafe Terrace in the Evening’, Degas.

Thank You-2

Toxic Renaissance Relationships here…
The start of the Omega Workshops in the 20th century here…
How the Virgin Mary appeared in Medieval Art here…

You can tweet me @she_noted, gain little insights in pictures from @she.noted or find my blog’s facebook page @shenoted – it’s always so lovely to hear from you!

Sources Used: 

(1) B. Barber and M. Gargas McGrath, The Artist and Political Vision (Transaction Publishers, 1991), p. 33.

(2) F. Frascina, C. Harrison and D. Paul, Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology (SAGE, 1982), pp. 17-18.

(3) K. Tester (ed), The Flâneur (Pyschology Press, 1994), Introduction.

(4) D. Harvey, Paris, Capital of Modernity (Routledge, 2004), pp. 209-213.

(5) M. Manoosh, Baudelaire and Caricature: From the Comic to an Art of Modernity (Penn State Press, 22 1992), p. 148.

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