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Gautier, Theophile

Category: Writer

                        Théophile Gautier by Nadar (1856-61)

Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier (30 August 1811 – 23 October 1872) was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and art and literary critic.  His work is described as “difficult to classify”, but he was interested and used symbolism.  He was also a user of hashish and opium, which is why he is on this site, as he had some quite interesting experiences.

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. He had periods of extraordinarily prolific output. During his time at La Presse, for example, Gautier also contributed nearly 70 articles to Le Figaro. Gautier wrote almost one hundred articles, equivalent to four large books, within nine months in 1848. He became director of Revue de Paris from 1851-1856, and left La Presse, acquiring the editorship of the influential review L’Artiste in 1856. It is through this review that Gautier publicized the Art for art's sake doctrines for which he became well known.  He was elected in 1862 to the job of chairman of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

 

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 born in Tarbes, capital of Hautes-Pyrénées département in southwestern France. 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, which he attended for three months before being brought home due to illness. Although he completed the remainder of his education, Gautier's most significant instruction came from his father.

 

In the aftermath of the 1830 Revolution, Gautier's family experienced hardship and was forced to move to the outskirts of Paris. But Gautier – then 19 - chose to stay with friends in the Doyenné district of Paris, living “a rather pleasant bohemian life”.  He frequented meetings of Le Petit Cénacle, a group of artists described by Wikipedia as “a more irresponsible version of Hugo's Cénacle…which soon gained a reputation for extravagance and eccentricity”.

And in this group, we see something of who Gautier was, somebody who did not like to ‘conform’.  Gautier was also "a celebrated abandonné, that is one who yields or abandons himself to something”.  In effect he gets very emotionally involved in things. 

 

One of these things was Ballet, and he wrote 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”, which seems a little hard on Ernestina.  The couple had two daughters.

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 23 October 1872 due to a long-standing cardiac disease. Gautier was sixty-one years old. He is interred at the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.

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