Musée d'Orsay: Armand Rassenfosse The Enemy

Armand Rassenfosse
The Enemy

The Enemy, illustration for the poem by Charles Baudelaire
Armand Rassenfosse (1862-1934)
The Enemy, illustration for the poem by Charles Baudelaire
Circa 1899
Indian ink, pencil, pastel and highlights in watercolour on laid paper
H. 11,5; W. 17 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Michèle Bellot

L'Ennemi [The Enemy], illustration for the poem by Charles Baudelaire

This drawing was a preparatory work for an engraving that was to appear in an 1899 edition of Flowers of Evil by Baudelaire (1821-1867). The editor had already approached Edvard Munch but then changed his mind and gave all the illustrations for the anthology to Rassenfosse who, like many Belgian Symbolist artists, has been greatly influenced by the work of the French writer. For poem X from "Spleen and Ideal", he created this tormented, morbid scene, typical of his work at that time.

The poem is a meditation on time, death, and the creative impotence that comes with old age, all Baudelarian themes. However, Baudelaire presents an unusual element rarely found in his writing: the paradigm of a Garden of Eden that has become too impoverished to nourish the flowers of a new poetry. Rassenfosse chose to ignore this metaphor and concentrate only on the final tercet:
- Alas! Alas! Time eats away our lives,
And the hidden Enemy who gnaws at our hearts
Grows by drawing strength from the blood we lose!

This violent and macabre drawing portrays "The Hidden Enemy" as a skeleton dragging his victim towards the final darkness. This morbid aesthetic is reminiscent of the work of another Belgian Symbolist, Félicien Rops (1833-1898). An allegory of the desperate human condition rather than a genuine illustration of Baudelaires's poem, Rassenfosse's vision nonetheless preserves the poem's unusual strength.

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