By Dennis Abrams
Marcel Proust, in a letter to Jean Cocteau, proclaimed that “My book is a painting.” And indeed, anyone who has read or has even attempted to read In Search of Lost Time has most likely found themselves overwhelmed, fascinated and even intrigued by Proust’s countless references to artists and their paintings. Characters and landscapes are described in comparison to paintings. Characters within the text describe other characters in terms of classic paintings. (On one occasion for example, Monsieur Swann describes Odette as having “a face worthy to figure in Botticelli’s ‘Life of Moses.’) Given that, can one understand the book without understanding or visualizing the art within the text?
Artist Eric Karpeles’ 2008 book Paintings in Proust (Thames and Hudson) reproduces over 200 paintings and drawings referenced in the text, along with the pertinent passage from the text, as well as Karpeles’ own introductions illuminating the book’s plot at that point. It is, as Boyd Tonkin described it for The Independent, “a sumptuous tasting menu of the work.”
For the rest of this article, and to follow our discussion of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, see today’s posting on our companion Web site, The Cork-lined Room.