Musically vague in the art, writings, and critical reception of Henri Fantin-Latour
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This thesis chronicles the development of Henri Fantin-Latour’s identity as a peintre-mélomane. Its purpose is to investigate how his multi-sensory impressions of music, particularly during performances of Richard Wagner’s operas and Hector Berlioz’s musical-dramatic works, would materialize into an aesthetic of vagueness. I examine the manner in which the scenic, acoustic, and acousmatic conditions in his physical environment heightened his awareness of a poetic and palpable sense of vagueness. I postulate that he aspired to simulate the sensorial aspects of his musical experiences in his operatic interpretations, lieder-inspired images, and allegorical fantasies. Through his inventive experimentation with lithography and his adaptation of painting techniques by his favorite old masters (most notably Eugène Delacroix), he developed a distinct facture that imbued his atmospheric prints, pastels, and paintings with an ineffable quality of vagueness. The correspondence between the auditory sensation, visual perception, and formal expression of the vague is also reflected in the picturesque language and musical nomenclature invoked by the contemporary criticism. The elusive sense of the musically vague in Fantin’s imaginative genre was a conspicuous leitmotif in the Salon reviews. An intertextual comparison between the musical discourse of the time and the critical reception of his artworks reveals absolute music to be a model of emulation. In light of music’s centrality in Fantin’s artistic enterprise, the conclusion explores the extent of Berlioz’s and Wagner’s aesthetic influence on his theory and practice.