Théophile Gautier: Wikis


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Théophile Gautier

Théophile Gautier, by Nadar, 1856
Born August 30, 1811(1811-08-30)
Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrénées
Died October 23, 1872 (aged 61)

Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier (August 30, 1811 – October 23, 1872) was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and literary critic.

While an ardent defender of Romanticism, Gautier's work is difficult to classify and remains a point of reference for many subsequent literary traditions such as Parnassianism, Symbolism, Decadence and Modernism. He was widely esteemed by writers as diverse as Balzac, Baudelaire, the Goncourt brothers, Flaubert and Oscar Wilde.


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Gautier was born on August 30, 1811, in Tarbes, capital of Hautes-Pyrénées département in southwestern France. His father, Pierre Gautier, was a fairly cultured minor government official and his mother was Antoinette-Adelaïde Concarde. The family moved to Paris in 1814, taking up residence in the ancient Marais district.

Gautier's education commenced at the prestigious Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris (fellow alumni include Voltaire and Charles Baudelaire), which he attended for three months before being brought home due to illness. Although he completed the remainder of his education at Collège Charlemagne (alumni include Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve), Gautier's most significant instruction came from his father, who prompted him to become a Latin scholar by age 18.

While at school, Gautier befriended Gérard de Nerval and the two became lifelong friends. It is through Nerval that Gautier was introduced to Victor Hugo, by then already a well-known, established leading dramatist and author of Hernani. Hugo became a major influence on Gautier and is credited for giving him, an aspiring painter at the time, an appetite for literature. It was at the legendary premier of Hernani that Gautier is remembered for wearing his infamous red vest.

In the aftermath of the 1830 Revolution, Gautier's family experienced hardship and was forced to move to the outskirts of Paris. Deciding to experiment with his own independence and freedom, Gautier chose to stay with friends in the Doyenné district of Paris, living a rather pleasant bohemian life.

Towards the end of 1830, Gautier began to frequent meetings of Le Petit Cénacle, a group of artists who met in the studio of Jehan Du Seigneur. The group was a more irresponsible version of Hugo's Cénacle. The group counted among its members the artists Gérard de Nerval, Alexandre Dumas, père, Petrus Borel, Alphonse Brot, Joseph Bouchardy and Philothée O’Neddy. Le Petit Cénacle soon gained a reputation for extravagance and eccentricity, but also for being a unique refuge from society.

Gautier began writing poetry as early as 1826 but the majority of his life was spent as a contributor to various journals, mainly La Presse, which also gave him the opportunity for foreign travel and for meeting many influential contacts in high society and in the world of the arts. Throughout his life, Gautier was well-traveled, taking trips to Spain, Italy, Russia, Egypt and Algeria. Gautier's many travels inspired many of his writings including Voyage en Espagne (1843), Trésors d’Art de la Russie (1858), and Voyage en Russie (1867). Gautier's travel literature is considered by many as being some of the best from the nineteenth century, often written in a more personal style, it provides a window into Gautier's own tastes in art and culture.

Gautier was a celebrated abandonnée of the Romantic Ballet, writing several scenarios, the most famous of which is Giselle, whose first interpreter, the ballerina Carlotta Grisi, was the great love of his life. She could not return his affection, so he married her sister Ernestina, a singer. He was also a great lover of cats.

Théophile Gautier, his wife Ernestina Grisi-Gautier and their daughters Estelle and Judith. Photograph taken around 1857.

Absorbed by the 1848 Revolution, Gautier wrote almost one hundred articles, equivalent to four large books, within nine months in 1848. Gautier experienced a prominent time in his life when the original romantics such as Hugo, François-René de Chateaubriand, Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Vigny and Alfred de Musset were no longer actively participating in the literary world. His prestige was confirmed by his role as director of Revue de Paris from 1851-1856. During this time, Gautier left La Presse and became a journalist for Le Moniteur universel, finding the burden of regular journalism quite unbearable and "humiliating." Nevertheless, Gautier acquired the editorship of the influential review L’Artiste in 1856. It is through this review that Gautier publicized Art for art's sake doctrines through many editorials.

The 1860s were years of assured literary fame for Gautier. Although he was rejected by the French Academy three times (1867, 1868, 1869), Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, the most influential critic of the day, set the seal of approval on the poet by devoting no less than three major articles in 1863 to reviews of Gautier's entire published works. In 1865, Gautier was admitted into the prestigious salon of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, cousin of Napoleon III and niece to Bonaparte. The Princess offered Gautier a sinecure as her librarian in 1868, a position that gave him access to the court of Napoleon III.

Elected in 1862 as chairman of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, he was surrounded by a committee of important painters: Eugène Delacroix, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Édouard Manet, Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse and Gustave Doré.

During the Franco-Prussian war, Gautier made his way back to Paris upon hearing of the Prussian advance on the capital. He remained with his family throughout the invasion and the aftermath of the Commune, eventually dying on October 23, 1872 due to a long-standing cardiac disease. Gautier was sixty-one years old. He is interred at the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.


Early in his life, Gautier befriended Gérard de Nerval, who influenced him greatly in his earlier poetry and also through whom he was introduced to Victor Hugo. He shared in Hugo's dissatisfaction with the theatrical outputs of the time and the use of the word "tragedy." Gautier admired Honoré de Balzac for his contributions to the development of French Literature.

As Gautier started off as a painter before he was a writer, he found many artists to be influential in his view of art itself. Painters such as the French artist, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who chose only to paint when inspired, and Spanish painters such as Murillo, Velázquez and Ribera.

Gautier was influenced greatly by his friends as well, paying tribute to them in his writings. In fact, he dedicated his collection of Dernières Poésies to his many friends, including Hérbert, Madame de la Grangerie, Maxime du Camp and of course, Princess Mathilde Bonaparte.


Portrait of Théophile Gautier, in L'Illustation, after a photograph by M. Bertall, 1869.

Gautier spent the majority of his career as a journalist at La Presse and later on at Le Moniteur universel. He saw journalistic criticism as a means to a middle-class standard of living. The income was adequate and he had ample opportunities to travel. Gautier began contributing art criticisms to obscure journals as early as 1831. It was not until 1836 that he experienced a jump in his career when he was hired by Emile de Girardin as an art and theatre columnist for La Presse. During his time at La Presse, however, Gautier also contributed nearly 70 articles to Le Figaro. After leaving La Presse to work for Le Moniteur universel, the official newspaper of the Second Empire, Gautier wrote both to inform the public and to influence its choices. His role at the newspaper was equivalent to the modern book or theatre reviewer.

Gautier's literary criticism was more reflective in nature, criticism which had no immediate commercial function but simply appealed to his own taste and interests. Later in his life, he wrote extensive monographs on such giants as Gérard de Nerval, Balzac, and Baudelaire, who were also his friends.

Art criticism

Gautier, who started off as a painter, contributed much to the world of art criticism. Instead of taking on the classical criticism of art that involved knowledge of color, composition and line, Gautier was strongly influenced by Denis Diderot's idea that the critic should have the ability to describe the art so as the reader can "see" the art through his description. Many other critics of the generation of 1830 took on this theory of the transposition of art – the belief that one can express one art medium in terms of another. Although today Gautier is less well known as an art critic than his great contemporary, Baudelaire, he was more highly regarded by the painters of his time. In 1862 he was elected chairman of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (National Society of Fine Arts) with a board which included Eugène Delacroix, Edouard Manet, Gustave Doré and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

Literary criticism

Gautier's literary criticism was more reflective in nature; his literary analysis was free from the pressure of his art and theatre columns and therefore, he was able to express his ideas without restriction. He made a clear distinction between prose and poetry, stating that prose should never be considered the equal of poetry. The bulk of Gautier's criticism, however, was journalistic. He raised the level of journalistic criticism of his day.

Theatre criticism

The majority of Gautier's career was spent writing a weekly column of theatrical criticism. Because Gautier wrote so frequently on plays, he began to consider the nature of the plays and developed the criteria by which they should be judged. He suggested that the normal five acts of a play could be reduced to three: an exposition, a complication, and a dénouement. Having abandoned the idea that tragedy is the superior genre, Gautier was willing to accept comedy as the equal of tragedy. Taking it a step further, he suggested that the nature of the theatrical effect should be in favour of creating fantasy rather than portraying reality because realistic theatre was undesirable.


In many of Gautier's works, the subject is less important than the pleasure of telling the story. He favored a provocative yet refined style. This list links each year of publication with its corresponding "[year] in poetry" article, for poetry, or "[year] in literature" article for other works):


  • Poésies, published in 1830, is a collection of 42 poems that Gautier composed at the age of 18. However, as the publication took place during the July Revolution, no copies were sold and it was eventually withdrawn. In 1832, the collection was reissued with 20 additional poems under the name Albertus. Another edition in 1845 included revisions of some of the poems. The poems are written in a wide variety of verse forms and show that Gautier attempts to imitate other, more established Romantic poets such as Sainte-Beuve, Alphonse de Lamartine, and Hugo, before Gautier eventually found his own way by becoming a critic of Romantic excesses.
  • Albertus, written in 1831 and published in 1832, is a long narrative poem of 122 stanzas, each consisting of 12 lines of alexandrine (12-syllable) verse, except for the last line of each stanza, which is octosyllabic. Albertus is a parody of Romantic literature, especially of tales of the macabre and the supernatural. The poem tells a story of an ugly witch who magically transforms at midnight into an alluring young woman. Albertus, the hero, falls deeply in love and agrees to sell his soul.
  • Les Jeunes-France ("The Jeunes-France: Tales Told with Tongue in Cheek"), published in 1833, was a satire of Romanticism. In 1831, the newspaper Le Figaro featured a number of works by the young generation of Romantic artists and published them in the Jeunes-France.
  • La Comédie de la Mort, published in 1838, is a period piece much like Albertus. In this work, Gautier focuses on the theme of death, which for Gautier is a terrifying, stifling and irreversible finality. Unlike many Romantics before him, Gautier's vision of death is solemn and portentous, proclaiming death as the definitive escape from life's torture. During the time he wrote the work, Gautier was frequenting many cemeteries, which were then expanding rapidly to accommodate the many deaths from epidemics that swept the country. Gautier translates death into a curiously heady, voluptuous, almost exhilarating experience which diverts him momentarily from the gruesome reality and conveys his urgent plea for light over darkness, life over death.
  • España (1845) is usually considered the transitional volume between the two phases of Gautier's poetic career. Inspired by the author's summer 1840 visit to Spain, the 43 miscellaneous poems in the collection cover topics including the Spanish language and aspects of Spanish culture and traditions such as music and dance.
  • Émaux et Camées (1852), published when Gautier was touring the Middle East, is considered his supreme poetic achievement. The title reflects Gautier's abandonment of the romantic ambition to create a kind of "total" art involving the emotional participation of the reader, in favour of a more modern approach focusing more on the poetic composition's form instead content. Originally a collection of 18 poems in 1852, its later editions contained up to 37 poems.
  • Dernières Poésies (1872) is a collection of poems that range from earlier pieces to unfinished fragments composed shortly before Gautier's death. This collection is dominated by numerous sonnets dedicated to many of his friends.


Gautier did not consider himself to be dramatist but more of a poet and storyteller. His plays were limited because of the time in which he lived. During the French Revolution, many theatres were closed down and therefore plays were scarce. Most of the plays that dominated the mid-century were written by playwrights who insisted on conformity and conventional formulas and catered to cautious middle-class audiences. As a result, most of Gautier's plays were never published or reluctantly accepted.

Between the years 1839 and 1850, Gautier wrote all or part of nine different plays:

  • Un Voyage en Espagne (1843)
  • La Juive de Constantine (1846) — text unavailable
  • Regardez mais ne touchez pas (1847) — written less by Gautier than his collaborators
  • Pierrot en Espagne (1847) — Gautier's authorship is uncertain
  • L’Amour souffle où il veut (1850) — not completed
  • Une Larme du diable (1839) ("The Devil's Tear") was written shortly after Gautier's trip to Belgium in 1836. The work is considered an imitation of a Medieval mystery play, a type of drama popular in the 14th century. These plays were usually performed in churches because they were religious in nature. In Gautier's play God cheats a bit to win a bet with Satan. The play is humorous and preaches both in favour and against human love.
  • Le Tricorne enchanté (1845; "The Magic Hat") is a play set in the 17th century. The plot involves an old man named Géronte who wishes to marry a beautiful woman who is in love with another man. After much scheming, the old man is duped and the lovers are married.
  • La Fausse Conversion (1846) ("The False Conversion") is a satirical play written in prose. It was published in the Revue Des Deux Mondes on March 1. As with many other Gautier plays, the drama was not performed in his lifetime. It takes place in the 18th Century, before the social misery that preceded the French Revolution. La Fausse Conversion is highly anti-feminist and expresses Gautier's opinion that a woman must be a source of pleasure for man or frozen into art.
  • Pierrot Posthume (1847) is a brief comedic fantasy inspired by the Italian Commedia dell'arte, popular in France since the 16th century. It involved a typical triangle and ends happily ever after.


  • Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) In September 1833, Gautier was solicited to write a historical romance based on the life of French opera star Mlle Maupin, who was a first-rate swordswoman and often went about disguised as a man. Originally, the story was to be about the historical la Maupin, who set fire to a convent for the love of another woman, but later retired to a convent herself, shortly before dying in her thirties. Gautier instead turned the plot into a simple love triangle between a man, d'Albert, and his mistress, Rosette, who both fall in love with Madelaine de Maupin, who is disguised as a man named Théodore. The message behind Gautier's version of the infamous legend is the fundamental pessimism about the human identity, and perhaps the entire Romantic age. The novel consists of seventeen chapters, most in the form of letters written by d'Albert or Madelaine. Most critics focus on the preface of the novel, which preached about Art for art's sake through its dictum that "everything useful is ugly."
  • Le Roman de La Momie (1858)
  • Le Capitaine Fracasse (1863) This book was promised to the public in 1836 but finally published in 1863. The novel represents a different era and is a project that Gautier had wanted to complete earlier in this youth. It is centered on a soldier named Fracasse whose adventures portray bouts of chivalry, courage and a sense of adventure. Gautier places the story in his favourite historical era, that of Louis XIII. It is best described as a typical cloak-and-dagger fairy tale where everyone lives happily ever after.
  • One of Cleopatra's nights

Short stories

La Morte Amoureuse (1836) - a classic tale of the supernatural in which a priest receives nocturnal visitations from a female vampire.

Gautier in fiction

Two poems from "Émaux et camées" -- "Sur les lagunes" and the second of two titled "Études de Mains" -- are featured in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian reads them out of the book shortly after Basil Halward's murder.

Ernest Fanelli's Tableaux Symphoniques are based on Gautier's nover Le Roman de la Momie.

In the steampunk 1990 novel The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, a character named Gautier is a clacker, a "hacker" of steam-powered computers capable of forging identities and sabotaging the Imperial Engines.

Chronology of works

  • 1830: Poésies(Volume I)
  • 1831: First article in Le Mercure de France au XIXe siècle
  • 1832: Albertus
  • 1833: Les Jeunes France, romans goguenards
  • 1834-5: Published articles which will later form Les Grotesques
  • 1835-6: Mademoiselle de Maupin
  • 1836: Published "Fortunio" under the title "El Dorado"
  • 1838: La Comédie de la mort
  • 1839: Une Larme du diable
  • 1841: Premiere of the ballet, Giselle
  • 1843: Voyage en Espagne | Premiere of ballet, La Péri
  • 1845: Poésies(complete) | First performance of comedy "Le Tricorne enchanté"
  • 1847: First performance of comedy "Pierrot posthume"
  • 1851: Premiere of the ballet, Pâquerette
  • 1852: Un Trio de romans | Caprices et zigzag | Emaux et camées | Italia
  • 1853: Constantinople
  • 1851: Premiere of the ballet, Gemma
  • 1855: Les Beaux-Arts en Europe
  • 1856: L’Art moderne
  • 1858: Le Roman de la momie | Honoré de Balzac
  • 1858-9: Histoire de l’art dramatique en France depuis vingt-cinq ans
  • 1861: Trésors d’art de la Russie ancienne et moderne
  • 1863: Le Captaine Fracasse | Romans et contes
  • 1863: De profundis morpionibus | Theophile Gaultier preferred to keep that satyrical work anonymous
  • 1865: Loin de Paris
  • 1867: Voyage en Russie
  • 1871: Tableaux de siège: Paris 1870-1871
  • 1872: Emaux et camées | Théâtre | Histoire du romantisme


  • Grant, Richard. Théophile Gautier. Twayne Publishers: Boston, 1975. ISBN 0-8057-6213-2.
  • Richardson, Joanna. Théophile Gautier: His Life and Times. Max Reinhardt: London, 1958.
  • Tennant, Phillip Ernest. Théophile Gautier. The Athalone Press: London, 1975. ISBN 0485122049.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Radiant words, words of light, full of rhythm and music, that's poetry.

Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier (1811-08-301872-10-23) was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, short-story writer, journalist and critic.


  • Il n'y a de vraiment beau que ce qui ne peut servir à rien; tout ce qui est utile est laid.
    • There is nothing truly beautiful but that which can never be of any use whatsoever; everything useful is ugly.
    • Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835; Paris: Charpentier, 1866), Préface, p. 21; Burton Rascoe (trans.) Mademoiselle de Maupin, and One of Cleopatra's Nights (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1925) p. xxv.
  • Virginité, mysticisme, mélancolie, – trois mots inconnus, – trois maladies nouvelles apportées par le Christ.
    • Virginity, mysticism, melancholy, – three unknown words, – three new maladies brought in by Christ.
    • Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835; Paris: Charpentier, 1866), ch. 9, p. 198; Mademoiselle de Maupin; and, One of Cleopatra's Nights (New York: Random House, 1948) p. 136.
  • Ils sont si transparents qu'ils laissent voir votre âme.
    • Eyes so transparent that through them one sees the lucent soul.
    • "À Deux Beaux Yeux", line 12, in Poésies Complètes (Paris: Charpentier, 1845) p. 278; Maturin Murray Ballou (ed.) Notable Thoughts about Women (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1882) p. 398.
  • Le poëte est ainsi dans les Landes du monde.
    Lorsqu'il est sans blessure, il garde son trésor.
    Il faut qu'il ait au cœur une entaille profonde
    Pour épancher ses vers, divines larmes d'or!
    • Such in the Landes of our world is the poet's stance;
      When he receives no wound, his treasure he'll retain.
      With such deep cut mankind his heart must also lance,
      To make him spill his verse, his gold tears' gushing rain!
    • "Le Pin des Landes", line 13, in Poésies Complètes (Paris: Charpentier, 1845) p. 323; Miroslav John Hanak (ed.) Romantic Poetry on the European Continent (Washington: University Press of America, 1983) vol. 1, p. 415.
  • Naître, c'est seulement commencer à mourir.
    • To be born is to have commenced to die.
    • "L'Horloge", line 24, in Poésies Complètes (Paris: Charpentier, 1845) p. 324; Lewis Nkosi Mating Birds (Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1983) p. 46.
  • Oui, l'œuvre sort plus belle
    D'une forme au travail
    Vers, marbre, onyx, émail.
    • Yes, the work comes out more fair,
      From a form that rebels against
      Verse, marble, onyx, enamel.
    • "L'Art", line 1, in Émaux et Camées (1852; Genève: Librairie Droz, 1947) p. 130; Earl Jeffrey Richards (ed.) Christine de Pizan and Medieval French Lyric (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998) p. 32.
  • Tout passe. – L'art robuste
    Seul a l'éternité,
    Le buste
    Survit à la cité.
    Et la médaille austère
    Que trouve un laboureur
    Sous terre
    Révèle un empereur.
    • Everything passes.–
      Only robust art is eternal.
      The bust outlives the city.
      And the simple coin
      Unearthed by a peasant
      Reveals the image of an emperor.
    • All passes, art alone
      Enduring stays to us;
      The bust outlasts the throne, —
      The coin, Tiberius.
    • "L'Art", line 41, in Émaux et Camées (1852; Genève: Librairie Droz, 1947) pp. 131-2; Dean de la Motte and Jeannene M. Przyblyski (eds.) Making the News (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999) p. 144; Henry Austin Dobson "Ars Victrix", line 29, in The Complete Poetical Works of Austin Dobson (Whitefish, Montana: Kessenger, 2005) p. 142.
  • Le hasard, c'est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu quand il ne veut pas signer.
    • Chance is the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign.
    • One of Gautier's contributions to his collaboration with Jules Sandeau, Émile de Girardin, and Joseph Méry, La croix de Berny (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1855) p. 28; Suzy Platt (ed.) Respectfully Quoted (Washington: Library of Congress, 1989) p. 38
  • L'art pour l'art signifie, pour les adeptes, un travail dégagé de toute preoccupation autre que celle du beau en lui-même.
    • Art for Art's Sake means, for its adepts, the pursuit of pure beauty – without any other consideration.
    • L'art moderne (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1856) p. 151; F. W. Ruckstull Great Works of Art and What Makes Them Great (New York: Putnam, 1925) p. 299
  • Je suis un homme pour qui le monde visible existe.
    • I am a man for whom the visible world exists.
    • Remark, May 1, 1857, reported in the Journal des Goncourts (Paris: Bibliothèque-Charpentier, 1888) vol. 1, p. 182; translation from Joanna Richardson Théophile Gautier: His Life & Times (London: Max Reinhardt, 1958) p. 14.
  • Demander à la poésie du sentimentalisme…ce n'est pas ça. Des mots rayonnants, des mots de lumière…avec un rythme et une musique, voilà ce que c'est, la poésie.
    • Fancy demanding feeling from poetry! That's not the main thing at all. Radiant words, words of light, full of rhythm and music, that's poetry.
    • Remark, June 22, 1863, reported in the Journal des Goncourts (Paris: Bibliothèque-Charpentier, 1888) vol. 2, p. 123, (ellipses in the original); Arnold Hauser (trans. Stanley Godman and Arnold Hauser) The Social History of Art (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951) vol. 2, p. 684.

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