Théophile Gautier

Last updated

Théophile Gautier
Theophile Gautier by Nadar c1856-1.jpg
Théophile Gautier photographed by Nadar
BornJules Théophile Gautier
(1811-08-30)30 August 1811
Tarbes, France
Died23 October 1872(1872-10-23) (aged 61)
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Resting place Cimetière de Montmartre
OccupationWriter, poet, painter, art critic
Literary movement Parnassianism, Romanticism
Theophile Gautier's signature.png

Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier ( US: /ɡˈtj/ goh-TYAY, [1] French: [pjɛʁʒylteɔfilɡotje] ; 30 August 1811 – 23 October 1872) was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and art 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 disparate as Balzac, Baudelaire, the Goncourt brothers, Flaubert, Pound, Eliot, James, Proust and Wilde.

Life and times

Gautier was born on 30 August 1811 in Tarbes, capital of Hautes-Pyrénées département (southwestern France). His father was Jean-Pierre Gautier, [2] a fairly cultured minor government official, and his mother was Antoinette-Adelaïde Cocard. [2] The family moved to Paris in 1814, taking up residence in the ancient Marais district.

Portrait of Theophile Gautier by Theodore Chasseriau (Musee du Louvre) Portrait de Theophile Gautier.jpg
Portrait of Théophile Gautier by Théodore Chassériau (Musée du Louvre)

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 at Collège Charlemagne, Gautier's most significant instruction, including in Latin, came from his father.

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 leading dramatist. Hugo became a major influence on Gautier. It was at the legendary premiere of Hugo's Hernani that Gautier is remembered for wearing his anachronistic red doublet.

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.

Gautier with Ernestina Grisi and their daughters Estelle and Judith. Photograph taken around 1857. Gautierfamily.jpg
Gautier with Ernestina Grisi and their daughters Estelle and Judith. Photograph taken around 1857.

Towards the end of 1830, Gautier began to frequent meetings of Le Petit Cénacle (The Little Upper Room), a group of artists who met in the studio of Jehan Du Seigneur. The group was a more irresponsible version of Hugo's Cénacle. Among its members were the artists Gérard de Nerval, Alexandre Dumas, père, Petrus Borel, Alphonse Brot, and Philothée O’Neddy. Le Petit Cénacle soon gained a reputation for extravagance and eccentricity.

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 the world of the arts. Throughout his life, Gautier was well-travelled, 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 personal style, it provides a window into Gautier's own tastes in art and culture.

Gautier was a celebrated abandonné (one who yields or abandons himself to something) 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. When Carlotta rebuffed him, he began a long-term relationship and had two daughters with her sister Ernestina, a singer. [2]

Gustave Boulanger, Theophile Gautier and Marie Favart in Roman costumes, 1861, a study for Boulanger's painting Repetition du "Joueur de flute" et de "La femme de Diomede" chez le prince Napoleon Gustave Boulanger, Theophile Gautier and Marie Favart in Roman costumes, 1861.jpg
Gustave Boulanger, Théophile Gautier and Marie Favart in Roman costumes, 1861, a study for Boulanger's painting Répétition du "Joueur de flûte" et de "La femme de Diomède" chez le prince Napoléon

Absorbed by the 1848 Revolution, Gautier wrote almost one hundred articles, equivalent to four large books, within nine months in 1848. In his essay La République de l'avenir, he celebrated the advent of the new republic and the onward march of individual liberty. [3] 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 to 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 in 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 at the age of 61 on 23 October 1872 due to a long-standing cardiac disease. He is interred at the Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris.

In 1873, A. Lemerre published a collection of memorial poems, Le Tombeau de Théophile Gautier, with homages by Anatole France, Victor Hugo, Algernon Swinburne, and many others. [4]

Personal life

Portrait of Theophile Gautier, by Auguste de Chatillon, 1839 Portrait of Theophile Gautier.jpg
Portrait of Théophile Gautier, by Auguste de Châtillon, 1839

The young Gautier's appearance was "flamboyant…defying conventionality by his flowing hair and far-famed scarlet waistcoat." [5]

In his youth, according to Edgar Saltus, Gautier was dashing, athletic, amorous, and mercurial:

He was tall and robust; his hair was a wayward flood; his eyes were blue and victorious. He was the image of Young France. His strength was proverbial; he outdid Dante; he swam from Marseilles to the Chateau d’If, and then swam back. [...] women fell in love with him at once. [6]

From an affair with Eugénie Fort, he had a son, Théophile Gautier, fils . From a subsequent relationship with the singer Ernesta Grisi (sister of the dancer Carlotta Grisi), he had two daughters, Judith Gautier and Estelle Gautier. [2]

Despite his attraction to "mystery, legend, tradition, the picturesque and the imaginative," and the occasional "excursion into the realms of the beyond," Gautier did not practice any established religion. [7]


Gautier spent the majority of his career as a journalist at La Presse and later 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 criticism 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 Émile 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. He also reviewed music, without technical terminology but with intelligence and insight, for instance into the work of his friend Berlioz, who set six of his poems (c. 1840) as Les Nuits d'été.

Later in life, he wrote extensive monographs on Gérard de Nerval, Balzac and Baudelaire, some of whom were also his friends: Baudelaire dedicated his chef-d'œuvre Les Fleurs du mal to him.

Art criticism

Gautier started as a painter and later turned to art criticism. He was strongly committed to Denis Diderot's idea that the critic should have the ability to describe the art such that the reader might "see" the art through his description. 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, Édouard Manet, Gustave Doré and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

Literary criticism

In Gautier's literary criticism, 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.

Theatre criticism

The majority of Gautier's career was spent writing a weekly column of theatrical criticism. 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 later 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.

Carlotta Grisi, his great love, as Giselle, 1842 Carlotta Grisi in the title role of Giselle, 1842.jpg
Carlotta Grisi, his great love, as Giselle , 1842

Dance criticism

The American writer Edwin Denby, considered by some to be the most significant writer about dance in the 20th century, claimed Gautier to be a great dance writer. Through his authorship of the scenario of the ballet Giselle, one of the foundation works of the dance repertoire, his influence remains as great among choreographers and dancers as among critics and devotees of ballet.

In 2011, Pacific Northwest Ballet presented a reconstruction of the work as close to its narrative and choreographic sources as possible, based on archival materials dating back to 1842, the year after its premiere.


In many of Gautier's works, the subject is less important than the pleasure of telling the story. He favoured 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):



Gautier did not consider himself to be a dramatist but more of a poet and storyteller. His plays were limited because of the time in which he lived; during the Revolution of 1848, 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:


The fictional Mademoiselle de Maupin, from Six Drawings Illustrating Theophile Gautier's Romance Mademoiselle de Maupin, by Aubrey Beardsley, 1897 Mademoiselle de Maupin by Beardsley.jpg
The fictional Mademoiselle de Maupin, from Six Drawings Illustrating Théophile Gautier's Romance Mademoiselle de Maupin, by Aubrey Beardsley, 1897

Short stories

Travel books

The travels of Théophile Gautier Vol 4
Travels in Russia Vol 1 [9]

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 Hallward's murder.

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

In Peter Whiffle by Carl Van Vechten, the main character Peter Whiffle cites Gautier as a great influence and writer, among others.

Chronology of works

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Baudelaire</span> French poet and critic (1821–1867)

Charles Pierre Baudelaire was a French poet who also worked as an essayist, art critic and translator. His poems are described as exhibiting mastery of rhyme and rhythm, containing an exoticism inherited from Romantics, and are based on observations of real life.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alfred de Vigny</span> French poet, playwright, and novelist (1797–1863)

Alfred Victor, Comte de Vigny was a French poet and early French Romanticist. He also produced novels, plays, and translations of Shakespeare.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gérard de Nerval</span> French writer, poet, essayist and translator (1808–1855)

Gérard de Nerval was the pen name of the French writer, poet, and translator Gérard Labrunie, a major figure of French romanticism, best known for his novellas and poems, especially the collection Les Filles du feu, which included the novella Sylvie and the poem "El Desdichado". Through his translations, Nerval played a major role in introducing French readers to the works of German Romantic authors, including Klopstock, Schiller, Bürger and Goethe. His later work merged poetry and journalism in a fictional context and influenced Marcel Proust. His last novella, Aurélia ou le rêve et la vie, influenced André Breton and Surrealism.

<i>Giselle</i> Romantic ballet in two acts

Giselle, originally titled Giselle, ou les Wilis, is a romantic ballet in two acts with music by Adolphe Adam. Considered a masterwork in the classical ballet performance canon, it was first performed by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris on 28 June 1841, with Italian ballerina Carlotta Grisi as Giselle. It was an unqualified triumph. It became hugely popular and was staged at once across Europe, Russia, and the United States.

The Pharaoh's Daughter, is a ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa to music by Cesare Pugni. The libretto was a collaboration between Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Petipa from Théophile Gautier's Le Roman de la momie. It was first presented by the Imperial Ballet at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 18 January 1862, with the design by A. Roller, G. Wagner (scenery), Kelwer and Stolyakov (costumes).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jean-Gaspard Deburau</span> Bohemian-French mime

Jean-Gaspard Deburau, sometimes erroneously called Debureau, was a Bohemian-French mime. He performed from 1816 to the year of his death at the Théâtre des Funambules, which was immortalized in Marcel Carné's poetic-realist film Children of Paradise (1945); Deburau appears in the film as a major character. His most famous pantomimic creation was Pierrot—a character that served as the godfather of all the Pierrots of Romantic, Decadent, Symbolist, and early Modernist theater and art.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Catulle Mendès</span> French poet and man of letters (1841–1909)

Catulle Mendès was a French poet and man of letters.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Julie d'Aubigny</span> French opera singer (1673–1707)

Julie d'Aubigny, better known as Mademoiselle Maupin or La Maupin, was a French opera singer. Little is known for certain about her life; her tumultuous career and flamboyant lifestyle were the subject of gossip, rumour, and colourful stories in her own time, and inspired numerous fictional and semi-fictional portrayals afterwards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carlotta Grisi</span> Italian ballet dancer

Carlotta Grisi was an Italian ballet dancer. Born in Visinada, Istria. Although her parents were not involved in the theatre, she was brought up in an opera family. She was trained at the ballet school of Teatro alla Scala in Milan and later with dancer/balletmaster Jules Perrot. She was especially noted for her performance in the classic role of Giselle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">19th-century French literature</span> Literature-related events in France during the 19th century

19th-century French literature concerns the developments in French literature during a dynamic period in French history that saw the rise of Democracy and the fitful end of Monarchy and Empire. The period covered spans the following political regimes: Napoleon Bonaparte's Consulate (1799–1804) and Empire (1804–1814), the Restoration under Louis XVIII and Charles X (1814–1830), the July Monarchy under Louis Philippe d'Orléans (1830–1848), the Second Republic (1848–1852), the Second Empire under Napoleon III (1852–1871), and the first decades of the Third Republic (1871–1940).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jean Coralli</span> French ballet dancer and choreographer

Jean Coralli was a French ballet dancer and choreographer, best known for collaborating with Jules Perrot in creating Giselle (1841), the quintessential Romantic ballet of the nineteenth century.

Émaux et Camées is a collection of poetry by the French poet Théophile Gautier.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Édouard-Henri Avril</span> French artist (1849–1928)

Édouard-Henri Avril was a French painter and commercial artist. Under the pseudonym Paul Avril, he was an illustrator of erotic literature. He collaborated with influential people like Octave Uzanne, Henry Spencer Ashbee, and Friedrich Karl Forberg.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tony Johannot</span> French engraver, illustrator and painter

Antoine Johannot, known commonly as Tony Johannot, was a French engraver, illustrator and painter.

<i>La Péri</i> (Burgmüller)

La Péri is a fantastic ballet choreographed by Jean Coralli (1779-1854) to music composed by Friedrich Burgmüller. With a scenario devised by Théophile Gautier and Coralli, scenery designed by Charles Séchan, Jules Diéterle, Édouard Desplechin, Humanité Philastre, and Charles Cambon, and costumes designed by Paul Lorimer and Hippolyte d'Orshwiller, it was first presented by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Académie Royale de Musique on 17 July 1843.

<i>One of Cleopatras Nights and Other Fantastic Romances</i>

One of Cleopatra's Nights and Other Fantastic Romances is a collection of fantasy short stories by Théophile Gautier, selected from his Nouvelles and Romans et Contes and translated from the French by Lafcadio Hearn. The translation was Hearn's first book, and is considered one of the best English translations of Gautier. It was first published in hardcover by Richard Worthington in 1882, and reprinted in 1886, 1888, 1890 and 1891; later reprint editions were issued by H. W. Hagemann (1894) and Brentano's in 1899, 1900, 1906, 1910, 1915, and 1927. The first British edition was published by MacLaren and Co. in 1907. The work was reprinted in 1999 by Wildside Press, a trade paperback edition with page count matching the original.

Cyril W. Beaumont OBE was a British dance historian, critic, technical theorist, translator, bookseller, and publisher. Author of more than forty books on ballet, he is considered one of the most important dance historians of the twentieth century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Auguste de Châtillon</span> French painter, sculptor and poet (1808–1881)

Auguste de Châtillon was a French painter, sculptor and poet. He was born and died in Paris. He, Théophile Gautier, Gérard de Nerval and Arsène Houssaye formed the "bohème du Doyenné".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Romanticism in France</span>

Romanticism was a literary and artistic movement that appeared in France in the late 18th century, largely in reaction against the formality and strict rules of the official style of neo-classicism. It reached its peak in the first part of the 19th century, in the writing of François-René de Chateaubriand and Victor Hugo, the poetry of Alfred de Vigny; the painting of Eugène Delacroix; the music of Hector Berlioz; and later in the architecture of Charles Garnier. It was gradually replaced beginning in the late 19th century by the movements of Art Nouveau, realism and modernism.

Fortunio is a novel by the French writer Théophile Gautier, first published under the name L'Eldorado and serialized in the newspaper Le Figaro from May 28 to July 14, 1837. It was compiled and published in a book under the name of Fortunio in 1838. It deals with Orientalist themes, and satirizes wealth, worldliness, and idleness. It has been characterized as absurdist, eccentric, and Decadent, and is a Romantic fantasy. Gautier considered the novel to be "his last expression of a 'doctrine'" concerning artistic creation.


  1. "Gautier". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary .
  2. 1 2 3 4 See : "Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs – La descendance de Théophile Gautier",
  3. Spencer, Michael Clifford (1969). The Art Criticism of Theophile Gautier. Librairie Droz. p. 44.
  4. Le Tombeau de Théophile Gautier, Paris : A. Lemerre, 1873.
  5. Gilman, p. 160.
  6. Saltus, pp. 11-12.
  7. Gautier (1912), p. 5.
  8. Bob Brier, Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs. New York, St. Martin's Press, 2013. ISBN   9781137401465 (pp. 174–5)
  9. Gautier, Theodore (1912). Travels in Russia (English ed.). Little, Brown, and Company. Retrieved 1 October 2017.


Further reading