Although the great French poet Baudelaire famously declared photography to be "the refuge of every would-be painter, every painter too ill-endowed or too lazy to complete his studies," he posed before the camera several times. This striking portrait of the brooding poet by Carjat is perhaps the best known, for it was published in the widely distributed series entitled Galerie contemporaine, littéraire, artistique.
The Galerie contemporaine is a high point in photographic publishing. Issued in parts from 1876 to 1884 by the firm of Goupil, the series contained 241 portraits of leading figures from the worlds of art, literature, music, science, and politics by a host of Parisian photographers. The illustrations were printed as woodburytypes-a photomechanical process that reproduced the continuous tones of photography but did so with printer's ink. The speed and economy with which woodburytypes could be printed, as well as their permanence (unlike traditional photographic processes that were subject to fading), made them a highly practical substitute for albumen silver prints in book publication or other situations where mass production was desirable.