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Gautier, [Pierre-Jules-]Théophile

Date born: 1811

Place born: Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrénées département, France

Date died: 1872

Place died: Paris, France

French art critic and poet; primary exponent of the art-for-art's sake approach. Gautier was the son of bureaucrat in the French tax office, Pierre Gautier, and his mother was mother was Antoinette-Adelaïde Concarde. In 1814 his family moved to Paris where Gautier received a formal education at the Collège Charlemagne. In 1829 he entered the studio of Louis-Edouard Rioult (1790–1855), a pupil of Jacques-Louis David. Though he did not remain there long, he adopted a bohemian lifestyle, joining the Romantic circle of Victor Hugo. Following the July Revolution (1830), he was among the esthetes who embraced the notion of art's autonomy and freedom from supporting ideology. Gautier's preface to his 1835 book, Mademoiselle de Maupin became an early statement of the "l’art pour l’art" ideology, i.e., art need bear no deep meaning or be for any purpose other than its own beauty to be important. When Emile de Girardin (1806-1881) founded his La Presse in 1836, Gautier was one of its first regular art and theatre critics. Gautier covered nearly all the Salons for La Presse during Louis-Philippe’s reign, 1830-1848. He wrote on architecture and the applied arts as well. Gautier promoted the work of Ingres and Delacroix largely through his technique of actively and personally entering into the picture's story. Gautier’s 1843 travelogue, Tra los montes, and reissued as Voyage en Espagne in 1845, introduced France to the work of Francesco Goya. He fell in love with the ballerina Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899), whose performances he reviewed, eventually marrying her sister Ernestina Grisi. After the 1848 revolution, Gautier focused on sculpture as the prime medium. In 1854 he joined Le Moniteur universel, leaving La Presse the following year, to write a book on the Exposition Universelle of 1855, Les Beaux-arts en Europe (1855-56). He assumed the editorship of L’Artiste in 1856. The following year his poem "L’Art" appeared. "L'Art" is the most specific statement of his view of sculpture, the naked, idealized body as expressing a metaphor of the primacy of the life (Snell). Gautier became the Second Empire's chief arbiter of artistic sensibility, both artistic and literary. He framed both Delacroix and Ingres as modern Old Masters. He was instrumental in the official acceptance of Gustav Courbet, though he condemned the artist as a willful, misguided anti-idealist. Gautier did not approve of Impressionism, criticizing Manet’s "Olympia" (1863) because it could not allow a nostalgic interpretation. His later Salon reviews, from the 1860s onward are simple descriptions of paintings, resorting to ghost-writers to handle the ever-increasing size of the shows. He secured a sinecure as the librarian to Princess Mathilde Bonaparte (1820-1904) in 1868. His final Salon review was in 1872. He succumbed to cardiac failure at age 61 and is interred at the Cimetière de Montmartre, Paris.

The notion "l’art pour l’art" (art for art's sake) preceded Gautier's use. It had been popularized in the early 19th century in De l’Allemagne (1813) by Madame de Staël (1766-1817) and in the philosophy lectures delivered by Victor Cousin (1792-1867) at the Sorbonne, "Du vrai, du beau et du bien" 1816-1818. Gautier however, was the first to publish the phrase in 1833, followed closely by Cousin's published lectures three years later. Gautier's art theory views art as a microcosm of an inner world, perceived and translated through the outer world of appearances by the viewer. Art appreciation for Gautier "transported" him to a world of pure emotions, violence and sensations that heightened the dramatic truth of art. This idealism lead to a religious experience of art, which he termed the "temple of art," a somewhat ironic position for a person who viewed himself as a modern pagan. His interest in 18th-century art led to a reappraisal of the style. His emphasis on the subjective in art appreciation greatly influenced Edmond and Jules Goncourt (q.v.v.) as well as the younger Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). His approach continued its appeal in twentieth century, though it was replaced by other methodologies. Nicos Hadjinicolaou (q.v.), in his 1978 Art History and Class Struggle provided a strong critique against "l’art pour l’art." A passionate temperament during revolutionary times, he had caught the imagination of revolutionary young artists and writers and yet balanced his reputation with the cautious bourgeoisie (Licht).

Home Country: France

Sources: Richardson, Joanna. Théophile Gautier, his Life & Times. London: Coward-McCann 1959; Spencer, Michael C. The Art Criticism of Theophile Gautier. Geneva: Droz, 1969; Licht, Fred. Goya in Perspective. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973, p. 170; Snell, Robert. Théophile Gautier, a Romantic Critic of the Visual Arts. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982; Lacoste-Veysseyre, Claudine. La critique d'art de Théophile Gautier. Montpellier: Sup Exam, 1985 [includes an index of artists discussed by Gautier]; Snell, Robert. "Gautier, (Pierre-Jules-)Théophile." Dictionary of Art.

Bibliography: Mademoiselle de Maupin: double amour. Paris: E. Renduel, 1835-1836; Tra los montes. Paris: G. Charpentier et cie, 1843 [most commonly cited edition is the 2nd, corrected ed. Voyage en Espagne. Paris: G. Charpentier, 1845]; Les Beaux-Arts en Europe, 1855. 2 vols. Paris, Michel Lévy, 1855-1856; L'art moderne. Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1856; Abécédaire du Salon de 1861. Paris: E. Dentu, 1861.