b. 1802 Flushing, The Netherlands, d. 1892 Paris, France
Monsieur G. has deliberately filled a function which other artists disdain, and which a man of the world above all others could carry out. He has gone everywhere in quest of the ephemeral, the fleeting forms of beauty in the life of our day, the characteristic traits of which, with the reader's permission, we have called 'modernity.' --Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life , c.1860
Baudelaire's call for an art of the present, an art of modern urban life, inspired painters like Édouard Manet. But for Baudelaire, the quintessential artist of contemporary Paris was Constantin Guys whom he obliquely referred to as "Monsieur G." Guys' watercolors and drawings of fashionable Parisians on display revealed for Baudelaire both the transitory and timeless aspects of modern life. For many years, Guys lived in England producing journalistic sketches for The Illustrated London News and other early, illustrated magazines. He traveled widely--from Bulgaria to Egypt to Turkey--covering military campaigns and conflicts, and sent back sketches to England to be engraved. By the late 1850s, Guys had returned to Paris and his sketches of Parisian women--from ladies of high society to café-goers and prostitutes--brought him great acclaim. Baudelaire was his most fervent champion, but Guys' circle of admirers included the photographer Nadar, Eugène Delacroix and Manet. Guys socialized with the Impressionists, but shy of publicity, he maintained a low profile. On a night out in 1885, a horse-drawn carriage knocked down Guys. He survived for several years subsisting on the occasional sale of a drawing.
Woman with Parasol