Politically, France was in turmoil at the start of the 1800s. The main French Revolution began in 1789 with the destruction of the monarchy, and eventually concluded in 1804 when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France. However, the government did not stabilize at all under that leadership. Instead, France cycled through a rapid series of republics and empires, led two more formal revolutions, and had a total of three different emperors, all named Napoleon Bonaparte. Baudelaire, like many of his fellow French artists and authors, participated in the Revolutions of 1848 by writing for a revolutionary newspaper. He noted in his journals that he didn’t care much about politics, but that he hated how France suffered under the constant threats of violence. The revolutionary period in France prevented many people from freely pursuing their passions. Many 19th century artists, including Baudelaire, were deeply affected by the difficulties of this time.
After the Revolutions of 1848, the country finally found some sense of stability, which opened the door for an explosion of art and culture in Paris. People call the period from then until World War I “La Belle Époque,” which translates to “the Beautiful Age” or “the Golden Age.” Baudelaire published his most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal, in 1857, and Rodin submitted his first sculpture for exhibition in 1862. Many of France’s most famous artists lived during La Belle Époque, including Edward Degas, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh, who was Dutch but chose to live in Paris for his artistic career. Victor Hugo published Les Misérables around this time, while composer Claude Debussy wrote his extremely popular piece Clair de Lune. La Belle Époque set France apart for attracting all manners of art and culture. The sculpture of Baudelaire represents that hub of art and the artistic interactions Paris had throughout the 1800s.