On the left the possible new face of Rimbaud, on the right the well-known Carjat studio-portrait.
The burnout of the messianic Arthur Rimbaud makes the mythological fall of Icarus seem more like a minor hang-gliding accident. The world’s most original modern poet autodestructs so mysteriously and so rapidly that biographers are forced to build his image out of stardust. Particles of evidence about this damned poet’s life seem to have been collected from the coma of comet Wild 2. Rimbaud is aerogel, frozen smoke, solid air. His life itself vaporizes on impact. Rimbaud defines the legend of otherness.
There isn’t much work in the Rimbaudian canon. His complete oeuvre can be read in a day and a night. (How to transform your life in twenty-four hours.) Critical texts and biographical studies pour from presses, raise eyebrows, galvanize controversy. (One can spend three lifetimes reading about the poet.) But Rimbaud’s multiform faces defy analysis. Apart from being the modern world’s poet-laureate, Rimbaud becomes in his meteoric life: teenage runaway, Abyssinian explorer, circus manager, angel of deviance, venture capitalist, philosophical freedom-fighter, Gnostic magician, Wandering Jew, pseudonymous mariner, Moslem prophet, African ethnographer, amateur photographer, gun runner, Communard and finally, military deserter. The list seems to never end. (Rimbaud forever!)
Three major problems exist for Rimbaud studies. First, why did he abandon poetry at eighteen when he had almost single-handedly reinvented the art? Second, what was the exact nature of his relationship with his mother, the tight-fisted but highly intelligent woman the poet venomously nicknamed Shadowmouth? And third, what happened to Arthur Rimbaud during the superviolent Paris Commune when, in the spring of 1871, the French capital was in the hands of a revolutionary government for seven weeks?
The first two questions are monolithic difficulties. And the third has also seemed insoluble – until now. Very recently, while researching Rimbaud’s circle of friends in London (all of them political exiles like him) I came across two photographs taken in the Place Vendome at the height of the demographic convulsion which was the Paris Commune. As luck would have it I enlarged one of these old plates and – suddenly – there right in front of me I seemed to see the sacred presence, the most elusive man in belles lettres, Arthur Rimbaud, the man ‘shod with the wind’.
Rimbaud as Paris Irregular during the Commune. In a follow-up article I will be discussing the identity of the giant to the poet’s right.
A Searing Gaze
In these two photographs (by Bruno Braquehais) we see the poet as we have never seen him before. Here we discover explosive and controversial evidence that Rimbaud was radically involved in the Paris Commune. From these old photographic plates we learn that the poet became nothing less than a juvenile figurehead of revolution. We see him dominating a great public space, surrounded by members of the National Guard; or possibly by the Paris Irregulars: or both. With a searing gaze the poet looks straight into the camera. Recovering from the shock of that gaze we register next that almost everyone apart from the young poet is smiling. Only Rimbaud, with his incredibly distinctive lips, downturns his mouth in an iconic scowl. Now for the first time we really see the Rimbaud grimace, echoed by a million rock-stars (from the second Carjat studio-portrait). But here in the new image that grimace is amplified and intensified.
The second point of interest is that the hard-bitten, middle-distance characters – nasty fellows to a man – all give pride of place to Arthur Rimbaud. It’s not just that the poet stands on a pedestal while they stand further off. No, here we see psychological deference. Whoever he is, this young man on the plinth is so charged with charisma and electricity that he commands the respect of men much older than him. And that could be because this wildman in his grimy kilt of serge, this Lord of the Dance with his regulation rifle, this holy monk of androgynous demeanour is actually Arthur Rimbaud, freedom-fighter. (It is my belief that Rimbaud was quite well-known as a poet during the Commune, though this fame mostly resonated at street-level.) In this new portrait we seem to meet the ‘dear, great soul’ – Verlaine’s words – while understanding that Camus was absolutely correct when he famously called Rimbaud ‘the poet of revolt’.
The full image, shot by Bruno Braquehais some time after the 16th of May 1871.
Rebel Angel of the Place Vendome
How can we contextualize this theophanic surfacing? What is the setting for Rimbaud’s emergence in this image?
In both of these Bruno Braquehais portraits we are in the Place Vendome in May of 1871. At the height of the Commune an exorcism of empire is being – or has recently been – enacted. As the Communards see it the Rue de la Paix (Peace Street) is being polluted by the presence of Napoleon Bonaparte on top of the column he set up to commemorate Austerlitz. And after much discussion, spearheaded by the painter Gustave Courbet, they finally decree its demolition. And precisely where the Rue de la Paix begins – in the Place Vendome – Arthur Rimbaud is presiding over the exorcism. He takes up a military stance – first at the feet and then at the head of Napoleon – who is represented as a laurel-crowned Caesar. (We know the poet was recruited to the Paris Irregulars so his uniform is not problematic.) But clearly Rimbaud is more than soldier here. The whole grouping is highly choreographed and the poet has been given an emblematic role. He is high-priest at this revolutionary mass where verticality stands for hierarchy. What delights is that the poet is so cheekily poking fun at the figure of the prostrate Bonaparte. We can only interpret his body-language to mean that he has just used his left elbow to overthrow the Nightmare of Europe.
Brute force and easy pride have fallen. A symbol of barbarism lies in the dust. Paris has been cleansed of Napoleonic earth-magic. Triumphalist and negative symbolism has been defused. (The workers of Paris are not to be treated like idiots.) The 50,000 dead of Austerlitz are no longer insulted. These are the thoughts in Rimbaud’s mind as he gazes into the future from the Place Vendome.
Two mindblowing portraits of Arthur Rimbaud have been hiding in plain sight for more than a century. If they are genuine they are possibly the most dramatic visual study of any poet in the history of the West. Byron, for all the freedom-fighting in Greece, never assumed such a Byronic pose. If Chatterton in his fatal attic had been captured by camera obscura; if Pushkin had been filmed striding through the snow to his doom; if John Donne had been photographed in the pulpit of St Paul’s in the moment of saying No man is an island; if some prehistoric daguerrotype existed which showed us Dante climbing the staircase of exile: then we would have images to place beside Rimbaud in the Place Vendome.
The second Braquehais image. Here Rimbaud (fifth from the right) adopts exactly the same posture as in the first image.
Authenticity and implications
Are these images genuine? To my way of thinking they are authentic. The chin and the mouth are unquestionably Rimbaud’s. Examine closely the slight asymmetry of the Cupid’s bow, one of Rimbaud’s most famous features (apart from his turquoise eyes). Looking closely you will notice that the central portion of the upper lip is shifted very slightly to the left side of the poet’s face. Now look at the perfect oval of the chin. The harsh and infinitely sad expression of the mouth is offset by this perfectly rounded chin: feminine, cherubic and utterly recognizable. The real problem in the first image is the nose. It looks too broad and flat. Yet if you look closely you will see a white square of light beginning on the bridge of the nose, ending at the tip. This square of light seems to spread the nose laterally. If you half-close your eyes the square disappears and the nose becomes Rimbaud’s: thin with a slightly upturned tip. I feel that this square of light is almost certainly an optical effect – caused perhaps by enlargement of the image – but a professional opinion is needed here. What is certain is that when the square is filtered out the problem disappears.
Arthur Rimbaud – the rara avis of all time – appears to have been fabulously captured in collodion-brown. Yet scowling out of the new portrait the world’s most controversial poet may be secretly smiling to himself. Hardcore Marxists are going to jump on these images as proof that Rimbaud was a full-blooded Communard. And as contemporary poster-boy for Extinction Rebellion the teenage Communard Arthur Rimbaud will empty classrooms faster than Greta Thunberg. But the truth is that Rimbaud was a magpie-Marxist at best. After the dissolution of the Commune he became rapidly depoliticized. Admittedly at the time – aged sixteen – he was one-hundred percent drunk with utopianism. While the red flag flew over the Hotel de Ville Rimbaud saw himself as a partisan. (Of course in the 1870’s this was still the flag of the French – not the Bolshevist – revolution.) In the Place Vendome he incarnates the Commune. But the image’s significance is much greater than this. It is not just Napoleon that Rimbaud topples with a casual nudge from his left elbow. By implication it’s the whole military industrial complex.
Many people are in for a shock. The Rimbaud damage-limitation exercise is over. With the emergence of these new photographs it is time to conclude that Arthur Rimbaud went through a phase of proto-communism. When Paris became an experimental city-state the poet was on the frontline of class-war. (Graham Robb, Rimbaud’s best biographer by far, has taken the view that any role in revolutionary Paris was fairly minimal; while Terry Eagleton and Kristin Ross are now likely to see, however wrongly, radical political convictions reinforced.) Yet, as the dust settles after the controversial materialization of Rimbaud in the Place Vendome, it must be remembered that after the failure of the Commune the poet continued to evolve a supernaturalist philosophy. Without a massive cosmic frame of reference even Rimbaud could never have written A Season in Hell. The confessional metaphysics of this work far transcend dialectical materialism. And Rimbaud’s primary, non-reductionist faith will always be in the occult praxis of his art. At the height of his powers (in ’72 and ’73) he believes that the world can be magically transformed through his art. His engagement is truly with his holy guardian angel.
I repeat: many are going to read into the new images a narrative affirming Marxist engagement. Yet this would be a selective interpretation. In The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune I note that Kristin Ross makes no mention at all of the Rue d’Babylone assault – when Rimbaud was almost certainly gang-raped in a Commune barracks. This ordeal takes place only a week before the photo-shoot in the Place Vendome. All the maladjustment to come pours out of the vortex of what the poet goes through at this time. All Rimbaud’s cruelty to his only real love – Paul Verlaine – is explained by events in the Rue d’Babylone. The harsh and sad expression in Rimbaud’s face as he stands in the Place Vendome has to be related to this recent nightmare experience. Yet Kristin Ross does not – in her rush to recruit Arthur Rimbaud for the revolution – even critique Stolen Heart, the poem which dramatically codifies the poet’s core-trauma, the poem in which the poet’s heart is ‘degraded’ by the ithyphallic soldiery. In my opinion Rimbaud’s text is excluded on purpose since the poem makes manifest a dystopian aspect of the Commune. (Revolution has changed everything except the human heart.) In a sometimes highly perceptive investigation Ross more or less overthrows her own thesis by this glaring omission. And similar errors of selective analysis need to be avoided when deconstructing the new images.
After the rape in the Rue d’Babylone Rimbaud doesn’t give in. The poet is not defeated. He doesn’t go back to his hometown and collapse in provincial bitterness. Instead he issues his doctrine of the Seer – Suffer everything so as to be in mystic solidarity – and returns to Paris to take a heroic stand. His face tells the full horror of what he has been through. But in the Place Vendome he shows what it means to be a hero.
Let’s leave the last word to Rimbaud himself. Let’s have the poet tell us precisely what he thinks about armed risings.
At dawn, armed with burning patience, we shall enter the splendid cities.
Here the impatience of the revolutionary, the understandable hunger for change, has been transformed into something far more impressive. Now the enemy within has been identified. Now the ultimate traitor has been exposed. Instead of burning Paris (as the Communards did when outgunned and outmaneuvred by the Versaillais) Rimbaud lights the lamp of interior alchemy and says with Mahatma Gandhi:
Be the change you wish to see in this world.
In the next article (of a series) I will be discussing the idea that Picasso may have known the Place Vendome images and used them when painting Boy with a Pipe.
I would love for these images to be of Rimbaud for all the reasons the author gives, but I feel that the author’s enthusiasm has gotten in the way of a clear, cold view of the images he uncovered. I hope I’m wrong–please do persuade me that I am.
I do state in the article that objective proof is needed to resolve this question. All I ask is that Rimbaud scholars keep an open mind and investigate these images thoroughly. I believe the Place Vendome images genuine and I’ll be adding more arguments towards that conclusion here. I may be wrong, time will tell.
Interesting article but Rimbaud stopped writing poetry when he was 20, not when he was 18.
It’s exciting to imagine new evidence of Rimbaud at the Paris Commune but I’m not convinced these photos are of Rimbaud. Firstly it doesn’t look much like him (in my opinion) and secondly Rimbaud was pretty vocal about what he did get up to during the commune in letters and in conversations with others. If he had been on the barricades (so to speak) with a rifle I’m sure he would’ve boasted about it.
I have to say you’re completely mistaken in your assumption that Rimbaud was ‘pretty vocal’ in his letters about his experience of the Commune. We have only two fleeting statements from him on this subject. “When mad anger drives me toward the battle of Paris – where so many workers are dying…’ (to Izambard, 13th May) and ‘…because in a week I will be in Paris, perhaps.’ (to Demeny, 15th May). That’s all he says in his correspondence re the Commune. Crucially though – and you ignore this completely – we have the pyrotechnic poems like Parisian Orgy and The Hands of Jeanne-Marie, which are indeed full of wild poetic inflations and hallucinatory deconstructions of class-war. These poems represent Rimbaud’s period of lurid reportage; he is transmitting straight from the streets of revolutionary Paris. Yet everything is shifted and displaced, he doesn’t say “I stood on such and such a barricade’ or ‘I wormed my way into the Hotel de Ville’.
So I have to dismiss your idea that he would have written overtly about the Place Vendome, if that’s what you’re saying?
As to when he stopped writing I take your point, 18 is incorrect – mea culpa – but many argue for 19, taking the view that Saison was the definitive farewell to literature and so by that reckoning the cutoff-point was August 1873. (Some have him writing even after his trip to Java, borrowing Batavian words and dropping them into Illuminations. Far-fetched indeed!) But 20 doesn’t work for me, in 1874 I believe he was only collating Illuminations (with Nouveau’s help). It all ended in August 1873.
Please stay tuned for more info and thanks a lot for your response to the article itself.
I wasn’t trying to insinuate that Rimbaud wasn’t at the Commune, he most certainly was. He was also engaged with the politics of the Communards, and as you rightly suggest his poems of the period prove it. My point was that if he had been welding a weapon I’m sure he would have boasted of it.
As for the Illuminations, to my mind collating and editing are as much a part of writing as writing. He was engaged in the act of creating.
There were tens of thousands of teenage Vagabonds in Paris during the Commune, many of them like Rimbaud had ran away from home. A young man with a rifle in hand a Rimbaud maketh not.
We know he drilled with a broomstick during the Franco-Prussian War when there were no rifles available. He was more than ready to march around in Izambard’s hometown (Douai).
Thank you for a fascinating and persuasive article. A timely account that I hope is reaching the scholarly community – will be interested in their views. I can see the similarity and like to think that serendipity and chance often leads to discovery, but what I most found compelling were your words. Interesting to think how iconoclasm sees other effigies of power replace those of previous eras. Maybe it’s each generations duty to hoist new sacred cows.
There have been some significant contributions to the debate on authenticity. One of Rimbaud’s very best biographers, Charles Nicholl (Somebody Else: Rimbaud in Africa) has written me a wonderful letter setting out all the reasons why he feels the new images from the Place Vendome are for real. And Jon Graham, translator of Jean-Luc Steinmetz’ Rimbaud study Presence of an Enigma has chimed in from LA to say that he is very convinced that this is indeed Arthur. There has been some resistance, largely driven – I believe – by political implications. (Someone’s laughing his head off behind the clouds!) Thank you for your contribution here, Howard, and plz fling a link among your circle to spread the word. Rimbaud forever!
The young man on the photo absolutely doesn’t look like Arthur Rimbaud.
Compare it with the photo taken from him with Verlaine !
Scholars and biographers around the world disagree with you.
Perhaps he doesn’t resemble the Rimbaud you imagined you knew.
And btw there exists no photograph of Rimbaud with Verlaine, you’re referring to a montage.
It seems that you want to see Raimbaud at the Paris Commune, but he was 16 years old.
No train to go to Paris (270km), etc…
This photo was taken at the same time than that we all know(oct. 71)…
Look at this letter, found in 2018 to Jules Andrieu :
I hope you know french 😉
Please see my essay ‘Racing the Clock’ for a full discussion of the time-windows of May, 1871. Jean-Luc Steinmetz and many others are of the opinion that Rimbaud made two journeys to Paris during the Communard period. Sadly my French is probably no better than your English, but again, you miss the point. Rimbaud has been well-known outside France for a hundred years; he is the international sunchild of modern literature, no less!
Biographers place Rimbaud in Charleville in May of 1871. He made his second flight to Paris by train in mid September of 1871 to stay with Verlaine. If one is to believe the accepted biographical timeline, Rimbaud was not in Paris in May.
Fortunately you’re mistaken. Jean-Luc Steinmetz, Rimbaud’s most lyrical and authoritative biographer (Rimbaud: Presence of an Enigma) states very clearly that Rimbaud was in Paris – for his second Communard adventure – from the 15th of May up to the commencement of Bloody Week. You are also off-target in your September chronology. When Rimbaud trained it to Paris to meet Verlaine in the Fall of 1871 it was his fourth – not his second – flight to the capital. The first escape during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 landed him in the Mazas prison: he was 15. Then, on the 25th of February 1871 – aged 16 – he arrived at the Gare de Strasbourg (now the Gare de l’Est) and slept on the streets of Paris, eating out of dustbins. Finally, as affirmed by Steinmetz and others, come his two escapes to Communard Paris in late April and mid-May. I suggest you read my essay ‘Racing the Clock’ to see a full discussion of the time-windows of May, ’71.
I agree with Jack Neaveau. Why doesn’t it appear in Rimb’s correspondence or literary work?
Jesse, have a look at the gaze of your ‘soldier-youth’, it’s a dream-laser. No-one but Rimbaud has that hard stare (see Maeve Murphy’s post below). Don’t make up your mind yet, see this image for a while. It may speak to you as it spoke to me.
Thank you, Adrian. It seems that the biographical timeline I was relying on was incomplete. I had never read if the two visits to Paris in the Spring of 1871. I am thrilled to the core.
Yours is a major discovery and a vital addition to our knowledge of the poet.
Thank you so much, David. I believe that you were in correspondence with Wallace Fowlie for the last ten years of his life. How wonderful. Back in 1971 I began my long journey with Rimbaud through W.F’s parallel translation, still – I feel – in many ways the most compelling English version we have. I treasure my powder-blue University of Chicago edition with the Picasso pen-and-ink study on the cover!
I can’t help feeling that through your valuable affirmation of the discovery Professor Fowlie also gives his stamp of approval.
Thank you. If nothing else, for your zeal about Arthur Rimbaud. Nobody in which I know has heard of him save a few. Of these few none know him beyond a scratch of the surface.
Did this turn out or become deemed him? These photographs?
“O, sublime trumpet full of strange piercing sounds – Silences crossed by World’s and by Angel’s”
Many Rimbaud experts worldwide agree that this is him; a few refuse to comment or claim to have no opinion. I was convinced from the first moment of discovery and remain so.
Through the spirit man goes to God. What a disaster!
I really do hope yr right about the photo though. It would be truly amazing to have proof of his commitment to the cause. X
Rimbaud in photos wishful thinking in my opinion.
You may be interested to learn that Charles Nicholl, in the new paperback edition of Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, says Rimbaud is ‘quite unmistakable’ in the new images from the Place Vendome and generously writes up my discovery, referencing the essays here. The main Braquehais image is also included in the new edition (published by Eland).
Great. Charles Nicholl’s work is first rate. That is a ringing endorsement! Congratulations.
Exciting to have your communications and comments, thank you indeed. Your translation of Patrick MacAvoy’s La Ballade (The Ramble) sounds most interesting & I look forward to its publication. (I rambled as far as India myself in the mid-seventies.) Judging by The Heat Curtain you are giving an important lost voice its rightful place in the literature of counterculture, how excellent.
I do hope yr right about the photo though. It’d be a real breakthrough. ?
Its the two photographs side by side which are really arresting for me. I don’t know if they are both Arthur Rimbaud, and I really should know more about him as poet, as a youth, but what struck me are those extraodinary eyes, that quite cold hard stare, and powerful eyes as well. From the point of view of those distinctive eyes, I think for sure it could be the same person. I also think the nose does look a wee bit different but for sure that could be the angle. The hair texture looks the same. But what and image, what a searing gaze indeed, that young boy soldier does not want to please, and is happy to stand out or rather not fit in. A bold and brave independent spirit is captured, the arrogance of youth at its most beautiful and best.
The gaze is supercharged, you are so right. Rimbaud was a badass in the Commune, his poems were well-known on the street and beyond. Plus he was a friend of Jules Andrieu and Andrieu in turn was a close friend of Braquehais (they were both photographers; and Andrieu a decent poet as well). Plz stay tuned. Much more info to come in the next piece. Thank you, Maeve.
It looks like him to me, especially on first glance, which is always when you see the most. As for the professional studio portrait of him re: the nose: a good studio photographer would know just the right angle to capture the subject so as to minimize something like a broad nose–the angle of the pose seems to be chosen for that reason.
The ‘first glance’ effect, yes. That’s just how it happened here, with the filters of the impossible turned off.
‘Of course it can’t be Rimbaud’ kicked in a few seconds later. Didn’t last though.
Big up, Raymond Foye! ‘You see the most.’
Can’t believe I’m seeing Jesse Glass on this thread spreading his useless disinformation… I destroyed his argument on Facebook a few weeks ago and he went crying off. Don’t drink from Jesse’s half-empty Glass – its lees is bitter!
Yes, Jesse G has been sceptical about what he sees as my leap of faith.
What was your split-second reaction to the image? Did your hair crackle like mine?
What an extraordinary discovery, if true. Certainly it looks like him — albeit a harsher, somewhat less ethereal version, from what we are accustomed to seeing in the Carjat portraits.
I want to believe!
Thank you for this chime, Glenn. I’m delighted to know you see the synonymity, though as you say, it’s a dark shift. Yet for that very reason the images seem more compelling. I think we are slowly moving from possible to probable identification. I was most happy to contribute (with Jeremy Reed among others) to your Fierce Invalids – A Tribute To Arthur Rimbaud (Blind Dog Press, 2014). I know you move in a large circle of Rimbaudians, could you point a few of them over this way? Very good to hear from you.
I do think you have a real find, here. I had problems at first with the width of the mouth, but I think that can be explained by the probability that the subject, Rimbaud or not, is trying to look as tough and fearsome as he can and has compressed his mouth into this tight-lipped grimace. I don’t think there’s a real problem with the nose, and I think your right, the chin is unmistakable. There’s a lesser known Carjat portrait of Rimbaud–one in which he comes across as far less angelic (and which I apparently cannot post here)–that emphasizes another feature to the Rimbaldian chin–right above it, just below the lip, is a concavity which in proper lighting is arc-shaped. This can be made out in your communard photo. I think the Carjat portrait I speak of is a good match for your poet Communard.
You’re so right, that arc-shaped concavity is pronounced and it’s there in the Communard shot, no question at all. Re width: we now need to get used to the fact that Rimbaud had the most sensuous mouth ever. (Jim Morrison, Hendrix & Jagger: eat yr hearts out.) Imagine THIS mouth smiling! That smile would light up the universe! And isn’t this exactly what Arthur Rimbaud does? Your other point is also on-target. Here Rimbaud is trying out his very best monster expression, after all he’s representing, as they say in LA. Thank you, Arturo Mantecon. Rimbaud forever!
Looking at the pictures of him as a kid, I have to say, I think you are 100% right. It’s really turning into a detective story at this point.
Sheerluck ‘H’ at your service here. (Rimbaud used the surname Holmes on his way back from Java.) Happy to see your percentage of certainty spelled out so bravely, Dermot. Thank you!
Congratulations Aidan. This is quite something; or seems to be… It’s impossible to be completely confident, of course, but I find this deeply persuasive. Intuitively, it seems to be the same face. Certainly I felt a frisson of excitement, unfakeable, when I first looked at the two images side by side. I hope this will transform our understanding of AR.
Objectively we will never know for certain; and that consideration in a way adds a spice of mystery. But we seem to be drifting steadily from possibility to probability. And now – from the author of Nightwalking, Matthew Beaumont – comes another experience of deep subjective persuasion, another ‘frisson of excitement’ which further propels a shared journey. I agree that this discovery has the potential to ‘transform our understanding’ of Rimbaud. Thank you Matthew. (MB’s Nightwalking is a radical study of London after sundown, an extended meditation on urban noire. Highly recommended!)
You suggest, Aidan, that we will never know for certain whether your newly discovered ‘Rimbaud’ can be positively, objectively identified but there’s good news on the horizon. Here’s one report among many on facial recognition and developments in AI that would enable someone to find a match–if there is one–between all of the identified pictures of Rimbaud and your new images. This is a booming field of endeavor for digital technology and I would not be surprised if the software for a successful analysis does not already exist. https://www.gemalto.com/govt/biometrics/facial-recognition Why don’t you look into that first?
I’ve contacted Gemalto, let’s see. What makes me laugh is that such a drama unfolded worldwide about the so-called Aden portrait of 2011 – showing this vacant-gazed anodyne colonialist who looks nothing at all like Rimbaud. Meanwhile some people can’t trust their own eyes about the Place Vendome.
These photographs are interesting but the article is, in my opinion, quite misleading. It is plain that the author just sees what he wants to see. Mere resemblance will never be evidence of anything. And that communard doesn’t look like Rimbaud that much to be honest… Squint your eyes to make the flat nose disappear? Now come on…
Your dismissive phrase ‘that communard’ tells me a lot. And please explain, exactly how much is ‘that much’? I think you’re actually saying that the soldier-boy resembles Rimbaud quite strongly but perhaps you don’t like the implications of the resemblance.
You are looking for evidence. But after a lifetime of studying Rimbaud I am looking for presence. And it’s unmistakeable.
May I submit that this is in fact Billy the Kid. After all, in terms of the spirit, the distance between Lincoln County Road and Place Vendome is not all that great. Were they not both “cowboy angels” in Bob Dylan’s lovely phrase? And there are physical resemblances. If I may go back to something else you say, I am one of that gang of desperadoes who believes “Illuminations” is Rimbaud’s final testament, where he moves from poetic vision to epiphany. That seems to me a more likely progression. I like your distinction between “evidence” and “presence”, but even the Turin Shroud ought to be further tested before we become the merrily driven victims of blind enthusiasm. I would suggest it is not impossible that it is Rimbaud, but that one must beware, or, rather, show greater modesty when conducting the battle charge. Is this not, in terms of your poetic scheme, just a little too convenient? You are perfectly right in wishing to “possess” Rimbaud. We all want to possess what we love. Rimbaud, however, will forever slip everyone’s grasp as certainly he does Graham Robb’s. That’s the thing about artful dodgers. Another thing that worries me is that you will undo your first argument if you pursue the second, the connection between the photo and Picasso’s painting, which I think might place you in Cloudcuckooland. This is all very fascinating: I neither believe nor disbelieve, but then I am always an agnostic when it comes to surfaces.
Marius Kociejowski, it’s not that I wish to possess, more that I’m possessed (and immodestly happy about it). And if you think me halfway to Cloudcuckooland now hold tight because I’m about to discuss the first hierophany of 1973 which catalysed the writing of my epic poem Vale Royal. I’ve been very contained about the verticality of this experience, now – if you’ll forgive me – I intend to let off. (Don’t worry, I have a coolant loop in place.) Just skimming the top level of what you say do I understand that you propose a complete disconnect between Arthur Rimbaud and Boy with a Pipe? But how could that even be remotely possible when Sir John Richardson himself has told us – based on half a lifetime of conversations with Picasso – that the painting is an evocation of Crimen Amoris, Verlaine’s curmudgeonly poem about Rimbaud? I challenge that claim and deny it any traction. As for your agnosticism, it is very welcome, there are far too many convenient disbelievers (and their opposite). But here we are not looking at prison-walls, I can assure you. The surfaces of the Rue de la Paix are being re-surfaced!
At art school in the 1980s I wrote a paper proposing that Picasso’s Blue Boy is a painting of Rimbaud. A tracing of the better-known Carjat photograph almost exactly overlays the face – I believe the iconography is taken from Crimen Amoris (“his blossom crowned head”) and biographical details – the pipe and blue suit. Picasso made drawings and prints from the Carjat photographs more than once.
Extremely interesting. Crimen Amoris is definitely the key to the Picasso angle. And it was far-sighted of you to make the Blue Boy link in the 80’s. Thanks for this valuable contribution.
Given that enthusiasm is what drives the universe, I find yours altogether admirable. Yes, the Verlaine connection is absolutely fine; it is the taking of a straight line, his, and turning it into a triangle, yours, that worries me.
Very cordial, Marius, you know that I greatly admire your work.
And yes, I do see a Dylanesque face in the second Braquehais image, the one where Rimbaud stands over Napoleon’s head, further away. Here he’s straight off the cover of John Wesley Harding. (In the 1980’s I met Dylan on a canal-boat in Camden Lock – near Compendium – and tried to persuade him to come with me to the House of Arthur Rimbaud in Royal College Street where Saison was dreamed in the fogs of Somer’s Town. Regretfully he couldn’t escape a recording-session on a portastudio on his own Bateau Ivre at the time. He wanted to accompany me very much, I could tell, but others weren’t so keen. Tant pis.)
Don’t worry too much about the triangular geometry, I will try to lop-off Verlaine’s corner (lower left) and keep things as much as possible two-way and curvilinear.
He has never been in the Commune. You’d better read his sister’s book. She wrote about that period.
Verlaine, Delahaye, the Paris police-records and – most of all – the Communard poems all contradict you, Chris.
Of course Isabelle as a good bourgeois denied his involvement. She tried also to suppress much of his poetry as well. She and her husband Paterne Berrichon attempted – rather tediously – to create a ‘poetic’ hagiography. (It’s heavy going.) However I do believe Isabelle when she speaks of Rimbaud’s conversion on his deathbed, that – for me – rings true. The ‘Aphinar’ letter he dictated to her the night before he died proves everything.
Hello. The column was destroyed on the 16th of May but Rimbaud was back in Charleville on the 13th of May, when he wrote the first Lettre du voyant to Izambard. However, as much as Rimbaud was pro-Commune (it was Rimbaud the Communard that was praised in the USSR), it wasn’t enough revolutionary, enough radical for him, he thought it too timid. Miloslav Topinka, Czech poet and Rimbaud’s translator and scholar writes about it (and everything else) in his book “Vedle mne jste vsichni jenom basnici” (Compared to me you’re all just poets). You can find info about Dr Topinka in the English Wikipedia, I think you’d find it interesting. I didn’t use Czech diacritics here in case it is not supported by the website.
Nine years ago a newly found photo allegedly showing Rimbaud in Aden made the headlines but it’s not a photo of him, sadly, as he wasn’t in Aden when it was taken.
Sending you all the best wishes and a lot of admiration from the Czech republic!
Very good to have your interaction here, Fismeister.
I look at the exact chronology closely in Rimbaud: Racing the Clock. According to Jean-Luc Steinmetz Rimbaud could have been back in Paris for his second Communard experience on the 16th, but the photo need not have been taken on the 16th. I believe it was taken some time between the 16th and 22nd.
“Vedle mne jste vsichni jenom basnici” Love that title! I will be contacting Dr Topinka. Thank you.
The poetry is too damn strong not to have this blazing backdrop. He was a crazy wanderer but not, I think, one without a context. Your work is good and needed especially now; Aidan please keep it up. To die is only immortal but to live on earth is to matter.
Rick, thank you for your lyrical and forceful contribution here. Please stay tuned for further essays moving down other interesting avenues.
Great find Aidan. I once did a painting of the famous photo of Rimbaud an became very familiar with his face and force. I see both in the Commune picture close-up, especially that chin which I remember being difficult to capture, difficult because my mind wouldn’t believe such an oval shape could be true. Now here is that chin again. I feel it’s him. Being an artist I know what light can do to facial features, like the nose, but light can’t change the ‘look’ of a person, the spirit comes through. There have been in recent years two new Emily Dickinson photograph discoveries and neither of them have that look of the well known portrait of her at 16 years of age. As much as I want them to be her I have nagging doubts. But I don’t feel those doubts with these new Rimbaud photos. I wonder if the second photo of him to the right could be enlarged to see the face? In any case, thanks for the exciting discovery.
‘The spirit comes through’ as you say, Steve Ladd. As someone very familiar with Rimbaud’s physiognomy and facial features – including of course that supernaturally ovoid chin – your analysis is helpful and significant. Rock on, Rimbaud.
You should look into the Aspiepath classification (Asperger’s plus Sociopath) it is what gave Rimbaud his distinctive appearance and personality. Examples include Lovecraft and Adam Lanza; now look at the second picture again, they could easily be mistaken for those two. Indeed, myself and others I know who fit this classification, could be mistaken at a distance. One must analyse the sensory organs, the nose, the mouth, and the ears, because these are dynamic organs which are not influenced by environmental factors.
Despite this, I would bet money that the boy in this picture is Rimbaud.
There may be some truth in what you say but the drawback with reductionist/materialist models is that though they may be accurate in a limited way they are fractional understandings of the whole. A chemical basis for human psychology can only go so far. (In another field, for example, epigenetics is fast-replacing older clunkier structures.) “I is another” means that consciousness is a transmission, not a local (individual) phenomenon. And Rimbaud was ‘receiving’ very clearly at one time in his life. That’s why his words are so luminous. Also, when you make comparisons based on type, don’t forget that Rimbaud evolved from sociopathic disaffection to cosmic saintlike acceptance (Season in Hell) in the space of a few years. His spiritual greatness is partly based on his atypicality.
Aidan, I just happened on NOT a Rimbaud specialist, but was looking for photos of him for a bust that a young fellow (as I once was when I was in idealist) asked be to create …and was just about to say I can’t do a bust from a single photo, it never works out. But then I came on your image, and decided to verify it as being one of the poet (Google searches often throw up anyone who appears on a page with the search-term. I am going to do the bust of Rimbaud the gang-raped communard who is still in it for the cause. It is a worthy effort for sure. Harry J. http://www.trentonculturalcastings.com
I’m quite sure that you are still an idealist, Harry J. As we know, things go from bad to worse to brilliant. The traumatized Communard still looks for ‘the splendid cities’. And I look forward to seeing your take on the best portrait we have of the finest poet. (I like your Stravinsky, btw.)
I admire very deeply how you defend your point. I think it is him. We can also look at the little doodles done by his friends. They’re caricatures which emphasize certain features and we can see the way he holds himself and the expressions of his face. The montage of Verlaine with Rimbaud had always put me off. There was something very wrong about his body which had been articulated in the drawings more accurately. Counting in for artistic flavor it’s corroborated here too. I also think the nose is not an issue. He had a soft face, light and grain obscure his features. The shape of the face and the Cupid’s bow, the eyes especially, they’re his. They radiate with his spirit.
If we are talking about être fou, I have a spiritual space for him in my core of unknowing. I found that we shared some spiritual philosophies. I had written similar poems to many of his before having known of him. I see myself a horrible worker like he’s a cult leader. Could I call him a muse? If he’s a theoretical saint then surely he’s an ascended master. It is basically a gift being dropped into my lap to see this, my birthday is May 17th. The picture might as well be a gift. Even if it’s just a tease and nothing ever comes of it, even if it is not him, the thought is an exciting one. Look at him there! He is a warrior of change, and change is never good nor bad.
I think it makes sense for him to have ended up here at this time. What you said about Isabelle is true. And I recently read about his training with broomsticks in the Franco Prussian war. His brother also ended up a soldier for a time, which would have an influence no matter their closeness. You said you found this by tracking his connections, which makes this sensible. We also see him speak politically. When I was studying sociology in college we read Marx and I saw parallels which led me to believe that he was experimenting with these ideas, it’s just conflict theory after all. That doesn’t surprise me, he was young, and reckoning with ideas of society and change and morals, taking in a lot of new information and philosophy. He read literally everything. You can see this in nearly all of his writing, he’s got his fingers in all the pies. This is the age of seeing what’s wrong with the world, but still being hopeful that one could change it. We see this clearly in almost everything he produces at that point.
Thank you for sharing your findings and defending the possibility, as well as keeping the conversation open for discussion.
Your point – among many others – about the rightness of his athletic build really strikes home. It’s not that the montage with Verlaine is insensitive or implausible, it’s just that the body is out of character not just with the face we all know so well but as you say, compared to the many sketches by his friends. (Recently, in lockdown mood, I found myself reflecting that the left leg which he puts forward so confidently in both portraits is the leg he loses to cancer. How ironic.) I’m glad also that you mention the broomsticks of Douai, they have come to my rescue a few times when attacked by lovers of a more domesticated Rimbaud, unable to face the wild child in the flesh. People often forget that even Verlaine was armed during the Commune and invigilated on the barricades. A gift dropped into your ‘core of unknowing’ on your birthday? How great, many Happy Returns of the 17th!
That doesn’t look anything like Rimbaud. I think your imagination has run away with you.
It’s very possible he doesn’t resemble the Rimbaud you thought you knew.
I have looked at these juxtaposed photos for a while and I do not believe the boy soldier is Rimbaud. There is a marked difference in the noses, so much so one has to conclude that the soldier in the pic is not Rimbaud. Was he ever issued a uniform in the first place? I wouldn’t know whether anyone verified that at the time. Skeptical in Providence.
Judging by your statements I doubt you have read the 10 essays here on my site. In one of them I address the question of military attire. Yes, Rimbaud was issued a uniform at the Rue de Babylone barracks where Zouave (Algerian) troops were stationed, explaining the extraordinary trousers.
Crucially, Rimbaud biographer & expert Charles Nicholl has just published his view which is that Rimbaud is ‘unmistakable’in the new images!
Please check out the new edition of Somebody Else: AR in Africa. CN gives several pages to an account of my discovery.
Hello Aidan, very interesting article. I’m an art historian, mostly work on Joseph Cornell, and have worked tangentially on Rimbaud due to Cornell’s homages. I love these kinds of intuitive finds from the archives. Since this might provide a clue, can I ask where you ran across these photographs?
Your comments are most appreciated, Analisa. I am not aware of Cornell’s homages to Rimbaud and would be happy if you could point me towards same and – of course – your commentaries. I wish I could easily say how it happened that I ‘chanced’ on these Braquehais images; which after all have been staring everyone in the face forever. No such thing as an accident! I’ll write you with some more details.
This could only be Rimbaud if he had had a nose transplant
A brain-transplant might be needed here.
Would love to know what Graham Robb makes of these new pictures. I’m halfway through his excellent biography
Yes, his biography is a masterpiece, but I thoroughly recommend Steinmetz as well: Presence of an Enigma. and Charles Nicholl’s AR: Somebody Else is also absolutely seminal.
As to an opinion from Graham Robb, one has so far not been forthcoming, which I do find a little strange. We have corresponded very cordially but GR has not been able to either affirm or deny the discovery.
Meanwhile Charles Nicholl, with whom I am also in correspondence, is as convinced as I am and has kindly offered to detail the discovery in the new paperback edition of Somebody Else, due out next year.
Another significant believer is Jon Graham over in the USA, celebrated translator of Andre Breton and J_L Steinmetz himself.
You should read George Steinmetz’s biography, ‘Presence of an Enigma’. It’s the best of the lot.
Correction: It’s Jean-Luc Steinmetz, not George.
If you take the time to read the Rimbaud essays accompanying the new images you’ll see that I reference J-L Steinmetz extensively, his biography is the best (as you say). JLS crucially discusses the high probability of a second visit to the Commune in May 1871.
Dear Mister Dun,
Thanks for sharing these pictures. To me it is undoubtedly Rimbaud, probably put into scene by Gustave Courbet, who seems to figure at the background of the “second picture” (ninth from the right) -and whom I suspect of standing next to the photographer for the “first picture”. The chronology however of the two pictures, as you mention them, to me seem to be reverse.
What you consider to be the “first” picture, the one with Rimbaud on the plinth, is -to me as an outsider (!) – almost necessarily the second picture, while the larger groups picture came first to my eyes. I just discovered your pictures a few hours ago, so I have no further information of any kind. Feel free to consider …
In the larger groups picture, Rimbaud obviously claims the “first place”in the event, standing next to Napoleon’s head, holding his left hand over his proper chest, just like Napoleon, putting his left foot forward -opposed to Napoleon’s right foot forward- It reminds me a bit of David, having slain Goliath. Maybe Rimbaud was wearing colored pants as well, even red? The black and white plate seem to suggest a bright color… Rimbaud somehow claims a central role in this event. Nevertheless, the poet’s central position is not enough strongly emphasized. The intention is there but the effect is too light. The soldiers on the plinth draw more the attention, standing closer to the photographer and being more highly positioned than Rimbaud.
I have understood that the plates took about 10-15 minutes to develop. So in the chronology of the event, both Courbet and Rimbaud would have been able to see the result on the spot. On what I suppose to be the second picture, Rimbaud is clearly positioned on the plinth, adopting the same “body language” as he did before. But he is now the undiscussed protagonist of the event. He has been put into relief. The crowbar demarcates the position of the “third man”, so that he does not stand in front of Rimbaud. To me it looks as if this picture wants to tell the real history of the event: these are the real heroes of this battle, the heart of the revolution. The psychology of this picture suggests to me a reconsidering of the idea, after the groups picture had been taken and looked at.
At the back-ground, the rope that organized the groups picture, has become visible as well. Why would the rope hang there already, since it clearly demarcates the curved shape of the group, which then has not yet arrived? To my understanding, the people of the groups picture have rather left. Maybe some of them are still hanging around at the background, watching the new picture being made. Looking as closely as I can, however, I would say that those are all different people. They seem to be asked to remain behind the rope. The idea that there are all different people at the background, may suggest that there was easily an hour in between the pictures.
And why would Rimbaud, (and Braquehais) after having made the bigger statement , go in the second place for a smaller statement, however adopting the same position? Braquehais would have seen that the message was not clear this way. If the groups picture comes afterwards, Rimbaud would rather have remained on the plinth, since he does claim the first rank. It is also strange that the friendly giant and the “third man”are not present anymore on the larger groups picture. Did the poet rather quickly go and find them, after the groups picture was made? Would this picture have been taken first, the both of them would have appeared on the groups picture as well.
The technical detail of the rope, the social flow, the psychology of the expression seem to suggest an opposite chronology.
Somebody was not happy with the result. Or somebody wanted to tell the story on his way. And he may have played in the card of Courbet. Courbet, who was actually the main instigator of the incident may have had his personal reasons to push Rimbaud to the foreground of the incident, given the dangerous consequences.
Practically speaking, Braquehais may have needed as well some help, since he was deaf and mute. I can imagine that Courbet helped out. Does this all make sense to you?
Please, feel free to correct me if I am wrong.
Meanwhile thanks thanks again for the pictures! Grand!
I am so delighted to have your valuable attestation, it means a great deal to me. And thank you for the close arguments re chronology, with which I completely agree. You are right: the image which I describe as ‘the first’ was in fact the second. I only really called it ‘the first’ because because it is so achieved, so focussed and so striking. But for all the reasons you give, the main image was almost certainly taken after the one in which Rimbaud stands over Napoleon’s head.
In the second image the curved shape of the rope is a forensic giveaway, just as you suggest. This is a great point, and it had not occurred to me.
I also find it reasonable to suppose that Courbet may have helped the deaf-and-mute Braquehais in the tricky phase of on-site development. And as for Courbet pushing Rimbaud forward so as to sidestep any dangerous exposure himself – once again I agree with you. (I might have made this point myself somewhere in these essays, though I forget exactly where, they were all written at great speed and in the first flush of excitement over the discovery. At the moment I am about to publish a more definitive and considered text with the University of Alabama.)
I would only disagree with you when you say that the friendly giant is not present in the group portrait (the first portrait, as we must now term it). I look at the big cloaked figure standing immediately to Rimbaud’s left and holding some enigmatic object in his right hand. Who is this? And what is he holding? There’s a clue here, I feel. Could it be a detonator (the most dramatic stageprop imaginable)? At first I thought it was some kind of valise but this would not be in keeping with this man’s clearly regimental status. (Note that he wears exactly the same uniform as Rimbaud.) His face is very blurred, even more blurred than Rimbaud’s; but we see that he wears exactly the same regimental belt and kepi. Do let me know if this idea resonates with you?
Thank you again for a fabulous contribution.
At first glance, I’d say it’s a real possibility that this indeed is Rimbaud. After studying the photo however, I feel likely it is not the case. I say this for the following reasons.
1 The person in the photo seems older rather than younger than the Rimbaud in the October 1871 image. At first glance, the person in this photo from the commune appears to be a few years older.
2 The hair of the person in this photo appear to be curly and a shade darker. Nothing can be aid conclusively because of the hat, but to my eye, this does not to be Rimbaud’s hair.
3 The nose. I think this photo should be professionally attested by an expert to remove all doubt. The chin and the eye are very similar to A. Rimbaud’s. I don’t believe that the nose is obscured by an optical illusion. On close inspection, the nose appears perfectly organic and proportioned without distortion. Moreover, it seems the same as the nose in the second photo. The tip is thicker, the nostrils are much wider, and nose is marginally longer. Rimbaud’s characteristic pencil thin nose stands out in the other photos we have of him, whether we look at the 1885 ‘gunrunner’ photo, or the last photograph from Abyssinia. In any case, it would be marvellous to have Rimbaud present in this historic scene. Whether or not this is his likeness, we can be quite sure that he was present somewhere near this location at the time.
I would go with your first feeling, the first glance tells the most.
Of course an expert forensic-level opinion would be valuable.
Where I disagree with you is that I don’t consider the nose in the two Abyssinian portraits ‘pencil thin’, far from it in fact.
FYI Charles Nicholl, top Rimbaud biographer, has just said in the new edition of Somebody Else that Rimbaud is ‘quite unmistakable’ in the new images.
I’ve followed the story of AR since ’92, having picked up a copy of l’heure de la fuite by Alain Borer. This beautiful book brimming with illustrations by Hugo Pratt along with the book Somebody Else by Charles Nicholl are among my most treasured items on the subject. May I ask if you have the original plates and if so would you be open to having the photo/s coloured by a professional?
Your offer is in the spirit of Illuminations. To have the plates professionally tinted would of course be wonderful. (Most believe Rimbaud was primarily referencing spiritual illumination in the title of his famous collection of prose-poems but he would surely be amused and intrigued by the idea of putting these portraits through some kind of optic prism to better evoke the atmosphere of that hot day in a revolutionary May long ago.)
Only wish I could say I owned the originals, if I did I would certainly be open to your proposal. Bill Gates owned the Bruno Braquehais plates at one time but apparently he sold them ten years ago to a Chinese media corporation of some kind, tracing ownership has been a bit of a nightmare. (Recently I’ve been trying to do exactly this in concert with the University of Alabama.)
However I do have a high resolution image of the second, more-achieved portrait, so do let me know if you could work with this, even if only in the digital realm.
I have not read Borer’s L’Heure de la Fuite but I’m tracking it down immediately. His excellent study of Rimbaud in Abyssinia I have on my bookshelf of course.
You may be interested to learn that Charles Nicholl, in the new paperback edition of Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, says Rimbaud is ‘quite unmistakable’ in the new images from the Place Vendome and generously writes up my discovery, referencing the essays here. The main Braquehais image is also included in the new edition (published by Eland).
Rimbaud wrote a letter to Izambard on may 13th 1871 from Charleville, and another one to Demeny on may 15th, still from Charleville. If he wanted to go to Paris, he had to do it by walking, which takes maybe 4 or 5 days. It’s very unlikely that he was in Paris before may 20th. And the commune officially ended on may 28th rue Oberkampf with the fall of the last barricade.
If he went to Paris, it could only be between april 17th and, let’s say, may 9th. According to Delahaye, Rimbaud went to Paris for 2 weeks in april (probably the 19th). He stayed at “la caserne de Babylone” and got no uniform. When the rumors grew that “les versaillais” would soon enter in Paris, Rimbaud went back to Charleville.
I suggest you read the best biography of Rimbaud by Jean-Lacques Lefrère.
Sources: Arthur Rimbaud Biographie, Jean-Jacques Lefrère, Robert Laffont, collection Bouquins, 2020.
The issue of the crucial dates in May have been discussed in detail in my essay ‘Racing the Clock’ which I urge you to read. Jean-Luc Steinmetz in Presence of an Enigma specifies two clearly-demarcated time-frames and he begins the second of these on the 16th of May. The time-windows for possible visits to Paris during the Commune are much more complex than you suggest. And I don’t know why you assume that Rimbaud had to walk to Paris when he could easily have taken a train as far as the Paris suburbs, if not into the inner city itself. As far as the uniform is concerned we have differing testaments. I seem to recall that Verlaine suggests that uniforms were scarce in the Caserne, as you say. But others contradict that opinion, Delahaye among them. In any case, with the increasing authority of the Commune, uniforms most probably had become available by the time of Rimbaud’s second visit.
As for Lefrere, I am sure his biography is great, everyone speaks well of it and I must read it, thank you for your suggestion. However for me this author is seriously compromised by his affirmation of the authenticity of the Aden ‘portrait’. How anyone can mistake the bromidic individual in this photograph for our Fierce Invalid is absolutely beyond me. The Harar self-portraits prove beyond any question that Rimbaud stayed hard-boiled, eccentric, non-conformist (even tailoring his own clothes to the great amusement of others) whereas this anodyne nobody in standard colonial garb emits only the charisma of mediocrity and conformity.
The eyes and mouth are his but the nose is too wide. So, I’d say there’s a 50-75% chance that it’s him.
You may be interested to learn that Charles Nicholl, in the new paperback edition of Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, says Rimbaud is ‘quite unmistakable’ in the new images from the Place Vendome and generously writes up my discovery, referencing the essays here. The main Braquehais image is also included in the new edition (published by Eland).
He’s conducting what is called ‘present arms’
A common military drill used by many armies.
Too hard to say whether he’s intimating anything outside of trying to form a narrative 150 years after a photo was taken!
Yes, a ‘present arms’, a common military drill. But note that not a single other person in the image assumes this stance. If one understands Rimbaud’s life, acknowledging – as many biographers do – that he was very likely in Paris at this moment in time, then a narrative becomes inescapable even though it’s foundations are necessarily speculative. Interpretation happens reflexively, catalysed by the powerful figure on the plinth. The boy-soldier of the Place Vendome could be described as an actor who plays Arthur Rimbaud incredibly convincingly, who stands in the wings of his dramatic life-story waiting for the right moment of entrance to assume a commanding position centre-stage.
I’ve been looking at his picture since 1984 and I have to say my first impression was “that’s not him.” The nose is not right, too thin. He would have been 17? The portraits we have of him at that age are more plump and boyish. This figure’s face is very narrow.
Look at: Rimbaud, aged 17, by Étienne Carjat, probably taken in December 1871.
I myself look for old photographs in antique shops and it’s an exciting thing to do. But my million dollar discoveries are just fun resemblances.
You are certainly wrong. Check the new paperback edition of Charles Nicholl’s Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa. The main image is included and Nicholl – possibly the world’s top literary sleuth – maintains Rimbaud is ‘completely unmistakeable’ in the Place Vendome group-portrait.
Have you considered the possibility that Tissot’s watercolour “The Wounded Soldier” may be Rimbaud? I think it looks even closer to the Carjat portrait.
Granted that Tissot and Rimbaud had both Anglophilia and a Communard experience in common I still cannot say that I see the resemblance you claim. The wounded soldier in the Tissot portrait has a rather cherubic mouth and certainly his chin is not Rimbaud’s. And – please correct me if I’m wrong – wasn’t Tissot’s subject a young man wounded in the Franco-Prussian war? He would seem to be wearing the uniform of the Imperial Army whereas Arthur Rimbaud in the Place Vendome wears flowing Zouave trousers (known to have been issued to the Paris Irregulars in the Rue d’Babylone barracks) and appears quintessentially anti-imperial, obviously completely in character to the last detail. For me, with his conventional good looks and rather cavalier superficiality Tissot’s subject is very far from the dark tortured individual so perfectly captured by Picasso in his pen-and-ink study of the poet. Having said all this (and looking at the Tissot again) I can’t help thinking of Leonardo DiCaprio playing Rimbaud in Total Eclipse, so there must be some resemblance there, however fortuitous.
Que delicia! valla que vale la pena! no entrare en detalles técnicos. mi primera impresión afirma que si se trata de Rimbaud. Es la sensación y el primer impulso lo que transmiten la idea (la mirada, sus labios) pero cuando interviene el pensamiento, nace la duda, principalmente por la nariz y por parecer algo mayor en el entonces de la ocasión. Es eficiente observar la imagen sin pensar (siendo esto posible en el primer momento) palpar la producción de estas sensaciones. Ahí esta la respuesta.
Gracias por su trabajo! he disfrutado felizmente cada una de estas palabras, desde los comentarios hasta la forma principal.
coincido oportunamente en su interpretación del yo es otro; la otra cara revela la capacidad individual de verse a uno mismo como si fuese otro.
Es bueno tener su valiosa aportación, así que me alegro de que esté de acuerdo en que es él. Rimbaud para siempre!
All the verified images of Rimbaud (the Carjat photograph and perhaps the Fantin-Latour painting) could be digitally analyzed by facial recognition experts and compared to these and other unsubstantiated images. Why not?
One day this will be done, I’m sure. In the meantime, ecce homo.
Se siguen presentando interesantes los comentarios. precisamos ciertamente de las herramientas, que observen un estudio mas exhaustivo para identificar la verdad de estas imágenes, mas allá de la creencia individual. ¿será esto posible?
Una consulta, con respecto a la imagen del Portico univers en Aden, se trata de Rimbaud?
Parece haber un sentimiento generalizado entre los estudiosos de que el retrato de Aden no es auténtico. Sí, Rimbaud conocía a algunos de los colonialistas dominantes en la imagen desde el balcón del Hotel Universe. Pero el que respira por la boca con cara vacía no es nuestro Fierce Invalid.
I have what you are looking for.”Encyclopaedia Britannica” entry on the Commune in the 80’s was illustrated with daguerrotype of statue squad with 6 men there is Rimbaud with a poignant troubled expression,a clear portrait.
Emails to you are bouncing back, could you post the image here? Or confirm a viable e-address?
Guys, come on! The boy in this photo could be anyone. Of course, it is fascinating to think that it is Rimbaud, but it is not possible to be sure. The human mind always manages to find evidence to support its thesis… even when these so-called proofs are evanescent.
Come on, Francesco, these remarks could be interpreted as indicating that you just don’t know Rimbaud at all. Even my severest critics admit that the chin, the mouth, the stony leer all radiate the Charleville Kid, they are photo-fit-identical. Sometimes desperate nay-sayers focus on the nose (that is: the nez-sayers!) but if you can be bothered to read my essay here you will see how I respond to that: it is a completely untenable argument. But in the last analysis it’s all about intuition. If you know Rimbaud then you know he is here, magnificently wild and untamed, commanding our respect in the most authentic image we have.
Check my Facebook page and you will see on my timeline that Charles Nicholl, one of the world’s leading authorities on Rimbaud, has just said that in the new image Rimbaud is (quote) quite unmistakable. Please read his wonderful book Somebody Else (Eland) before making superficial and extremely ephemeral comments. (You’ll find CN’s breakdown of my discovery on page 45.)
Buenas noches. simple curiosidad, para nutrir mi información, sobre la supuesta; “Chasse spirituelle” que sabe usted al respecto? Saludos cordiales.
The Spiritual Hunt seems to be lost, but who knows? (The hunt continues.)
Verlaine called this Rimbaud’s masterpiece. A forgery produced by two French students convinced some people for a while but was soon exposed. It reads as though Rimbaud’s entire work was fed into a computer and then regurgitated, very familiar but deeply suspicious.
Finalmente: what we have is enough.
Sorbonne professors were fooled. But not André Breton, who exposed the forgery by analyzing the writing. Too bad Breton is not around to comment on the photographs.
I have a strong feeling that Breton – who, as you say, saw straight through a very clever hoax – would have immediately recognised Rimbaud in the Place Vendome. I only wish my dear friend David Gascoyne was still alive! As someone who was close to Breton, Eluard and Pierre Jean Jouve, his response to the discovery would be so significant.
It’s a nice idea but at the time in question, Rimbaud was only sixteen. Is this guy really only that age? At the height of his early poetic inspiration, writing the ‘voyant’ letter a couple of days prior to the events in the Place Vendome, having just decided not to bother going back to school after it had been closed because of the war. In the absence of any evidence of a sudden trip to Paris (when his mind was so much on his writing rather than external events) and doing whatever it took to sign up and get kitted out like that, as well as learn rifle drill, I’m afraid I think it highly unlikely it was him, despite some resemblance.
Ten essays on this site all deal in depth with the kind of questions you raise. Every major Rimbaud biographer suspects he made two separate trips to Communard Paris, one before the ‘voyant’ letter, one afterwards. (See Jean-Luc Steinmetz, for instance.) He’d had rifle training a year earlier when only fifteen and a half – he’s actually sixteen and a half here – while staying with Izambard during the Franco-Prussian war. True the volunteers had to use broomsticks because rifles were in short supply but he would have learned the entire drill, present arms etc.
Please also consult the new edition of Charles Nicholl’s classic study Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa. Nicholl reproduces the main Place Vendome photograph, discusses my discovery in some depth and concludes that Rimbaud is ‘quite unmistakable’ in the new images.
I’m not a Rimbaud historian, a mere admirer in actual fact. However I see every possibility that those photographs are the genuine article. It’s more evident in artwork than it is from other pictures, but there is a strong resemblance.
Happy to know you see strong resemblance, thanks for writing in.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed something else; the way he holds his hands remind me very much of the known portraits of him in Aden. It may be just my imagination but it struck me before I looked at the face closely. As for the face I think it could absolutely be him and it would be the find of the Centaury if it were. I haven’t had time to read all the posts, but have you sent this to an expert who specialises in facial recognition?
I have been a huge fan of AR since my teens and spent loads of time in Charleville absorbing the atmosphere and looking at some of the youth who bear a striking resemblance to AR,,they have ” the look” if that makes sense. I really think that you are on to something here. Thanks for the article.
I can believe that a psychogeographer like yourself drifting through the town of Charleville might find Rimbaud lookalikes on every other street. But I’d like to go further and suggest that in fact one can find Rimbauds tonight in every great city on earth. Just as dub musicians in Japan sing in Japanese with Jamaican accents because of the transformational influence of the prophet and poet Bob Marley, so a mysterious morphic resonance is making the sunchild of Charleville into a kind of cultural paradigm, zeitgeist incarnation.
For me Rimbaud represents a new human archetype, a hero who moves literature away from the establishment and back onto the streets (where the preliterate Greek poets sang with their lyres) a transgressive figure profoundly involved in cracking the code which makes written language a cultural weapon of condescension and elitism.
I wonder if there is an academic consensus in November 2022…?As a doctor and onetime anatomist (now psychiatrist), my instinct is that it is him. I’m pretty good with faces and the scowl certainly looks like his! All best with the enquiry, S.
Week by week, month by month an academic consensus is building. But images so dramatic and controversial naturally generate disbelief here and there, entropic reactions in some quarters. One celebrated biographer (British) has declined to comment, he simply will not express an opinion one way or the other. Yet in his brilliant study one notes that he has significantly ruled out Rimbaud’s participation in the Paris Commune. Another portraitist, a French poet of national stature, who has written a stylish and psychologically masterful study, was good enough (like the aforementioned British biographer) to correspond with me for quite some time in the early stages of the discovery. He admitted that the boy-soldier profoundly resembles Rimbaud but added that ultimately it simply could not be him because Rimbaud was not in Paris at the time of the demolition of the Vendome column. When I quoted his own biography to prove that in fact Rimbaud could easily have been in Paris in the seven days after the demolition – a crucial factor in my argument for identification – our cordial correspondence was suddenly discontinued.
Yet among many academic and literary supporters, Charles Nicholl, author of Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa has quite recently delivered a ringing endorsement of my theory in the latest edition of his seminal work. Nicholl declares that Rimbaud is “unmistakable ” in the Place Vendome images. And when my friend, the lately-deceased poet (and Rimbaud-scholar) Niall McDevitt, heard about Nicholl’s affirmation, he wrote to me to say that I had received the perfect endorsement from the greatest literary sleuth on the planet. (In fact it was McDevitt who first brought The Reckoning, Nicholl’s biography of Christopher Marlowe, to my attention. In this work, the murky circumstances surrounding the assassination of the Elizabethan dramatist are deconstructed in the most extraordinary way.)
And so the long battle rages. But slowly and surely the battle is being won. Thank you, Simon Magus, for your profoundly valuable contribution to this debate. The evolved and non-subjective instinct of a doctor – and an anatomist! – is just what is needed at this stage of the operation. (Pun intended.) I sense you bring a meticulous forensic focus to bear on a poet you know and love well. Scowl on, Arthur Rimbaud!
With regard to the nose issue, see Jef Rosman’s painting (1873)
Absolutely correct, and in fact some of the Abyssinian self-portraits show quite a broad nose.