Friday, September 9

on distilling it

It is beyond doubt an excellent thing to study the Old Masters in order to learn how to paint; but this can only be a subsidiary exercise, if your purpose is to understand the nature of beauty in the present time. The draperies of Rubens or Veronese will not teach you to depict moiré antique or satin à la reine or any other stuff of modern manufacture that is designed to be supported and carried on a crinoline or on starched muslin petticoats. The weave and grain are not the same as in the stuffs of ancient Venice, or in those worn at the court of Catherine. Furthermore, the cut of the petticoat or bodice itself is completely different; the pleats are arranged in a new system; and lastly, the gestures and carriage of the woman herself give her gown a life and physical existence which are not those of the robe of the woman of antiquity.

In short, in order that any particular modernity may be worthy of eventually becoming antiquity, it is necessary that the mysterious beauty involuntarily lent to it by human life should be distilled from it.

-- Charles Baudelaire The Painter of Modern Life (1863)
Translated by Norman Cameron