French poet, novelist and critic Théophile Gautier (1811–72) was a significant figure of the French Romantic movement and one of the first to talk of ‘art for art’s sake’. He created the libretto for several prominent ballets in the mid-19th century, of which the best known today is Giselle.
Gautier was born in Tarbes and initially trained as a painter. He made his debut as a theatre critic with La Presse in July 1837 and remained there until March 1855, when he moved to work primarily for government papers such as the Moniteur universel and the Gazette de Paris. In 1841 he was inspired by Heinrich Heine’s De l’Allemagne (1835) to create the scenario for Giselle, which he developed with Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. The title role was created on Carlotta Grisi, for whom Gautier nursed a life-long passion; reputedly his last word was her name. She did not reciprocate his affection and Gautier married her sister Ernesta, with whom he had two children.
Gautier was most widely known as a critic, but he achieved early success with his epistolary novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835). His poetry collection Emaux et camées (1852) proved extraordinarily influential on following poets of the Romantic moment. Though his later collections did not equal its success, Baudelaire dedicated his own collection Les Fleurs du mal (1857) to Gautier, describing him as ‘the impeccable poet’.
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