When Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) wrote a harsh critique of the painting of Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), on the occasion of the 1859 Paris Salon, he did not admit any uncertainties with regard to the theme of figuration in the painter’s work. The dimension and effort of human life arduously dedicated to the countryside, which Millet sought to depict, was no more than an immaterialised desire that did not cause any admiration or astonishment to Baudelaire’s critical eye.
In the representation of this figure-type in the fields, in the light of dawn or dusk, Baudelaire saw a fragile romanticism, a forced representation that, in his view, ruined ‘all the fine qualities by which one’s glance is first of all attracted’.
But the question can now be asked: could the critic and poet Baudelaire truly experience Millet’s landscape if it did not depict the ‘monotonous’ figure-type in the painter’s work?
Opening up this possibility in the present, and proposing a reflection about the experience of landscape and the place we occupy in relation to it, three works belonging to the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection are displayed here: a landscape drawing by Jean-François Millet, 'Landscape at Dusk' (1851-1852), and two poems by Charles Baudelaire brought together in two editions of his famous work 'Les Fleurs du Mal' (1857).
This is an encounter that is brought about in order to raise awareness of the world and of the feelings this evokes.. The experience of landscape as a permanent construction of the imagination through the representation of its magnitude, beauty and extent, in this case, particularly, in drawing and in poetry.