Meryon, Charles (1821-1868) by Scholes, Robert

Charles Meryon (1821 – 1868) He was the illegitimate son of a Parisian dancer and an English doctor, who entered the French Navy in 1837. On a trip around the world he began sketching. Returning, he lived on a small inheritance and began to study peinting, but a severe condition of color-blindness drove him into colorless drawing and etching. He worked mainly on architectural subjects done in a severly romantic style. Suffering from a serious mental illness that made him paranoid, he led an unhappy life which ended miserably. Baudelaire admired his etchings of of Paris and wrote about his work enthusiastically. Walter Benjamin had this to say about that connection: Meryon brought out the ancient face of the city without abandoning one cobblestone. It was this view of the matter that Baudelaire had unceasingly pursued in the idea of modernism. He was a passionate admirer of Meryon. The two men had an elective affinity to each other. They were born in the same year, and their deaths were only months apart. Both died lonely and deeply disturbed — Meryon as a demented person at Charenton, Baudelaire speechless in a private clinic. Both were late in achieving fame. Baudelaire was almost the only person who championed Meryon in his lifetime. Few of his prose works are a match for his short piece on Meryon. His treatment of Meryon is an homage to modernism, but it is also an homage to the antique aspects of Meryon. For in Meryon, too, there is an interpenetration of classical antiquity and modernism, and in him the form of this superimposition, the allegory, appears unmistakably.

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