Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud is one of the most remarkable figures in the history of poetry. Despite his tiny body of work–only three collections (A Season in Hell, The Drunken Boat and Illuminations), all written before he turned 20–he influenced many 20th century artists from Pablo Picasso to Robert Mapplethorpe. Victor Hugo called him “an infant Shakespeare” Rimbaud’s torrid two-year affair with another poet, Paul Verlaine (together they were V&R) culminated with Rimbaud in the hospital with a gunshot wound and Verlaine in jail, and cemented his reputation as a controversial gay icon and archetypical enfant terrible.

Seventeen-year old Rimbaud met photographer Etienne Carjat at a dinner for Les villains bonhommes, a bohemian group both Rimbaud and Verlaine were members of. In October 1871, Rimbaud set in Carjat’s Notre-Dame-de-Lorette studio for a photo session, where the above photo was taken. The iconic photo was since immortalized as the symbol of poetry, youth, rebellion and romance — the photo even put on plates and cushions in France. In fact, Carjat took many photos of Rimbaud but in January 1872, during another Les villains bonhommes dinner, two quarreled, and Rimbaud wounded Carjat with Albert Merat’s cane-sword. In response, Carjat destroyed all photographs he took of Rimbaud. Today only eight photographs of Rimbaud by Carjat which were given to friends between October ’71 and January ’72 survived.

Rimbaud gave up on poetry before his 21st birthday. He would go on to spend the rest of his short life as a soldier and (dubious) trader in exotic locales before dying from cancer at 37.

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