Marcel Proust (1871-1922): Art in Proust: Overview
Above: Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877). Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image license: Public domain.
In the entire history of European civilization, Proust had the good fortune to live during a time of high cultural sophistication, in a city - Paris - where much of this sophistication found a welcome home, and under material conditions - abundant wealth and leisure - that made this sophistication easily accessible to him. This meant in part that his ideas and perceptions, as a human being but particularly as an artist, were deeply informed by the experience of works of art, especially visual art. Indeed, there is scarcely a page of his work that cannot be understood as a commentary on the human drive to create complex representations of experience; whether we are reading about the changing details of Odette's dresses, Mme de Villeparisis' watercolors, or Charlus' invectives, art as artifice completely suffuses human life for Proust, both as social exchange and private experience. Along with love, travel, and literature, art is for Proust one of the supreme opportunities for that gentle revolution of the senses and the mind that breaks through the constraints of habit and inertia and points the way to a genuinely new life for each of us. It is both education and transformation, and as a result what we ordinarily call our perspective is nothing more than the accretion of our most penetrating and significant experiences of art. Every day, we see even the most ordinary things with eyes given to us by the great painters, sculptors, and architects, without even knowing it.
The following pages present a visual guide to works of art and artists mentioned in Proust's novel by name, according to the order in which they appear in the text. At present the guide is complete for the first two volumes of Proust's work; guides for subsequent volumes will be published as time permits.
Most images in this guide are in the public domain; where this is not the case, images are displayed in accordance with the license specified by the author, and the author and license are also linked in the caption. If you are a rights owner and feel that any part of this guide infringes on your copyright, please contact Michael Kicey, Humanities Liaison Librarian immediately (contact info above at right).
For ease of access, the guide has been broken up into sections corresponding to Proust's chapters.
The present digital guide would have been impossible, or at least extremely laborious, to assemble without the invaluable guidance of Eric Karpeles' magnificent Paintings in Proust and William C. Carter's annotated Yale edition of Swann's Way and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. While the present guide often follows Karpeles especially closely, it does not aspire to replace or reproduce his work, which the present guide supplements.