The Meem Library’s Edouard Manet Portrait of Charles Baudelaire

Portrait of Charles Baudelaire, Full Face, after a photograph by Nadar, 1868. Edouard Manet

Between two study carrels situated along the north wall of the Meem Library, easily missed from the main atrium but visible to anyone with a keen eye browsing our French Literature shelves, hangs a small etching of Charles Baudelaire by his close friend Edouard Manet, whose signature is visible in the lower right of the plate. (The inscriptions of both artist and printer also appear in the lower margin.)

A gift to the Meem Library in 1994 in honor of Santa Fe Tutor Katharine (Mulford) Boaz, who passed away this last November at the age of sixty-nine, this 3 11/16″ x 3 3/16″ plate imprint on thin handmade paper had its origins in a portrait etching of Baudelaire executed by Manet in 1865. This fourth and final state, completed in 1868, was one of two portraits of Baudelaire by Manet that appeared in Charles Asselineau’s 1869 biography Charles Baudelaire, sa vie et son oeuvre, published two years after Baudelaire’s death.

That Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (a senior language reading in Santa Fe) has left a deep mark on a significant number of our students and alumni, is borne out by a catalog search of our Archives, which shows no fewer than forty-nine senior essays written on that work since 1973, averaging to nearly one a year.

Perhaps even less well-known than the existence of the Library’s Baudelaire etching is that, for a period, Manet himself once held a place in our curriculum–this in the form of his painting Olympia, first exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1865, the very same year in which Manet rendered the first version of the image that would become our own Baudelaire portrait. While Music, as one part of the Quadrivium, has always been an integral part of our Program, the College has at various times in its history discussed and even explored on a trial basis the addition of a visual arts element. Making space for yet more works within our Program’s already full list and schedule has traditionally proven challenging, since adding one reading or class almost invariably requires cutting or removing another. And so the Visual Arts Tutorial that seniors on the Santa Fe campus once took during the spring semester, and in which Manet’s Olympia once featured, is no longer.

Still, these traces of our College’s and campus’s past live on in our Library’s Archives, which retains copies of the original Visual Arts Tutorial manuals, as well as the boxes of slides and carousels once used to project these art images onto our classroom walls for discussion.