Lola de Valence
– Edouard Manet, 1862
Lola de Valence
Entre tant de beautés que partout on peut voir,
Je contemple bien, amis, que le désir balance;
Mais on voit scintiller en Lola de Valence
Le charme inattendu d’un bijou rose et noir.
Among such beauties as one can see everywhere
I understand, my friends, that desire hesitates;
But one sees sparkling in Lola of Valencia
The unexpected charm of a black and rose jewel.
— Charles Baudelaire, 1863, translated by William Aggeler
“The Triumph of Manet”
…Manet, with his fondness for the picturesquely exotic, still paying tribute to the toreador, the guitar, and the mantilla, though already half won over to everyday objects, to models found in the street, must have seemed to Baudelaire like a close reflection of his own problem: the crucial condition, for an artist, of being subject to several opposing temptations and actually capable of expressing himself in a variety of admirable styles.
We need only glance through the slender collection of Les Fleurs du mal, noting the significant and as it were concentrated variety of subjects in the poems, and compare it with the variety of subjects to be remarked in the list of Manet’s works, to decide on a reasonably obvious affinity between the preoccupations of the poet and the painter…
Both were born into the same environment of the old Paris bourgeoisie, and both display the same rare combination of a refined elegance in matters of taste with a singular strength of will in their work.
Furthermore: they were both equally contemptuous of any effects not arrived at by conscious clarity, and the full possession of the resources of their craft; it is this quality, which defines purity, in painting as in poetry. They have no mind to speculate on “sentiment” or introduce “ideas,” until the “sensation” has been skillfully and subtly organized. In fact, what they aimed at and reached was the supreme quality in art — charm, a term which I use here in all its force.
That is what I think of when I recall the delicious line — a line that seemed equivocal to the evil-minded, and a scandal to the Law — the famous bijou rose et noir which was Baudelaire’s tribute to Lola de Valence. A mysterious jewel, it seems to me less appropriate to the strong and stocky danseuse in her rich and heavy Spanish petticoat, standing superbly in wait behind the scenes, ready, with all her supple sureness of muscle, for the signal that will release the vigor, rhythm, and syncopated violence of her dance, than to the cold and naked Olympia, that monster of banal sensuality, ministered to by a negress…
– Paul Valéry, 1932
She was Lola in slacks.
– Vladimir Nabokov, 1955