Saturday, September 9, 2017

Proust and Reality

Frederic Leighton
Jonathan’s token to David
ca. 1868
oil on canvas
Minneapolis Institute of Art

Frederic Leighton
Elijah in the Wilderness
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

"Does not the sign of unreality in others consist in their inability to satisfy us, as, for instance, in the case of social pleasures which, at best, cause that discomfort which is provoked by unwholesome food, when friendship is almost a pretence, since, for whatever moral reasons he may seek it, the artist who gives up an hour of work to converse for that time with a friend knows that he is sacrificing a reality to an illusion (friends being friends only in the sense of a sweet madness which overcomes us in life and to which we yield, though at the back of our minds we know it to be the error of a lunatic who imagines the furniture to be alive and talks to it) owing to the sadness which follows its satisfaction – "

John Everett Millais
Christ in the House of His Parents (The Carpenter's Shop)
ca. 1849-50
oil on canvas
Tate Britain

George Richmond
Agony in the Garden
oil on panel
Yale Center for British Art

Jean-François Millet
Potato Planters
ca. 1861
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art

"And if in recapitulating the disappointments of my life as I had so far lived it, they led me to believe that its reality must reside elsewhere than in action, and if, in following the vicissitudes of my life, I did not summarise them as matters of pure hazard, I well knew that the disappointment of a journey and the disappointment of love were not different disappointments but varying aspects which, according to the conditions to which they apply, are inflicted upon us by the impotence, difficult for us to realise, of material pleasure and effective action."

Edwin Landseer
Rent-day in the Wilderness
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Carl Fredrik Hill
Sister Anna
oil on canvas
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Auguste Renoir
Young Girls
oil on canvas
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

Edgar Degas
ca. 1870-72
oil on canvas
Musée d'art moderne André Malraux, Le Havre

"That which we have not been forced to decipher, to clarify by our own personal effort, that which was made clear before, is not ours.  Only that issues from ourselves which we ourselves extract from the darkness within ourselves and which is unknown to others."

Mary Cassatt
Woman and girl driving
oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Giovanni Boldini
Scène de fête
ca. 1889
oil on canvas
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
At the Moulin Rouge - The Dance
oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art

William Strang
The Temptation
oil on canvas
Tate Britain

Jean-Louis Forain
The Admirer
ca. 1872-86
oil on canvas, mounted on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

"A literature which is content with "describing things", with offering a wretched summary of their lines and surfaces, is, in spite of its pretension to realism, the furthest thing from reality, the one which impoverishes us and saddens us the most, however much it may talk of glory and grandeur, for it abruptly severs communication between our present self, the past (of which objects retain the essence) and the future in which they encourage us to search for it again.  But there is more.  If reality were that sort of waste experience approximately identical in everyone because when we say "bad weather", "war", "cab-stand", "lighted restaurant", "flower garden", everybody knows what we mean – if reality were that, no doubt a sort of cinematographic film of these things would suffice and "style", "literature" isolating itself from that simple datum would be an artificial hors-d'oeuvre.  But is it so in reality?"

– quoted passages are from Stephen Hudson's translation (1931) of Time Regained by Marcel Proust, originally published posthumously in 1927 as the eighth and final volume of À la recherche du Temps Perdu