Central to the acceptance of romantic artists and writers in nineteenth century France, Gautier was a fervent promoter of such figures as Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire. His key role in the development of Parisian literary bohemia put him in direct conflict with the emerging stuffiness of French bourgeois life. As the art critic for La Presse from 1838-1845, and as the literary commentator for the Journal Officiel (until 1870) and other publications, Gautier rejected prevailing aesthetic notions and attacked the hypocrisy of French culture and morality.
Gautier rejected the notion that art has an ideological mission, and called for art for art’s sake, the truest possible expression of truth and beauty. He also rejected prevailing mores and became a figure of popular revulsion and moral approbation. Having two mistresses and three children, Gautier outraged polite society by turning his own life into a work of bohemian expression.
Gautier’s novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) was his most acerbic attack on the mediocrity of the bourgeoisie. That novel daringly explored bisexual relationships, opening Gautier to charges of promoting immorality. The legal battle that ensued cleared him but sealed his fate in the eyes of the French literary establishment. It was the first major case of the century involving an attempt at literary censorship on moral, rather than political grounds.
Mademoiselle de Maupin established Gautier’s reputation for the scandalous, a reputation that transcended both his century and his country. Gautier was denounced and rejected by the French Academy three times, his works were banned in Russia, and as late as 1917 the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice sought to purge him from the public libraries.