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Paintings in Proust
on 30 May 2011
Karpeles is well-qualified - as a practising artist and a devoted Proustian - to have undertaken the unprecedented task of assembling references to paintings and painters in Proust's great work. He had a good idea and saw it to publication. (There is, incidentally, a successful French version which is the one I have read, in order to examine Proust's actual texts rather than rely on translations.)
Karpeles sheds new light on Proust's extraordinary novel. His work substantiates his claim in the subtle Introduction that Proust regarded his references to paintings and painters as crucial to the book, not just because they stimulate the reader's visual imagination and evoke emotions and sensations, but also because the ideal - and therefore unreachable - worlds of art correspond to the unattainability of fulfilment in love. The novel of course refers to itself: it too presents an ideal or idealised world as the best paintings do. Proust also wants to show that painters operate unconsciously as well as deliberately: they create images for which words are inadequate. Proust's narrator often says he has no eye for art or for visual description when the opposite is of course the case.
No book is perfect - this one isn't.
(a)I share other reviewers' reservations about the size of certain reproductions (the publishers have not adopted a consistent practice in this regard) and the legibility of some captions. But the book is in other respects well-produced
(b)Karpeles sometimes chooses bizarre examples of the work of an artist mentioned by Proust (would he really have compared Albertine to Rembrandt's Bathsheba?) and does not follow up all the references to all of Proust's allusions either to images in art or to artists.
(c)there is a mystery about "Lebourg and Guillaumin"; Karpeles says nothing about the former but assumes that the latter is the painter Armand Guillaumin, although the text (as other scholars think) seems to be referring to furniture makers not painters
We therefore need a second edition to include better illustrations, a more complete survey of artists, images and paintings, and perhaps references to sculpture (thus entailing a change in the book's English title).
Meanwhile this book is indispensable to keen Proustians.