Words of Marcel Proust

LEARNING FROM THE MASTER • HOW TO WRITE ABOUT ART


Read how Marcel Proust translates his visual experience of Chardin’s self-portrait into written language

SELF-PORT RAIT WITH GLASSES -- JEAN BAPTISTE SIMÉON CHARDIN, 1775

SELF-PORTRAIT WITH GLASSES -- JEAN BAPTISTE SIMÉON CHARDIN, 1775

“Only a petty mind, an artist who at most speaks and dresses as such, looks solely for people in whom it recognizes the harmonious proportions of allegorical figures. For the true artist, as for the natural scientist, every type is interesting, and even the smallest muscle has its importance.

If you do not like seeing old people whose features lack some dignified or delicate regularity, old people whom age has pitted and reddened like rust, go and see, in the pastels gallery, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s self-portraits from when he was seventy.

Above the enormous spectacles that have slipped down his nose, which they pinch with their brand-new lenses, his worn-out eyes turn upward in his diminished gaze, seeming to have done much looking, much bantering, and much loving, and to declare with a tender flourish: Hé bien, yes, I am old. Flecked with the gentle dimness of age, they have still kept their flame. But his eyelids, like clasps that have been overused, are fatigued, their rims red. Like the old garment that envelops his body, his skin has hardened and faded. Like the fabric, it has kept and almost heightened its pinkish tones, and is glazed here and there with a kind of golden nacre. And the wearing out of the one always recalls the worn tones of the other, these being the tones of all things nearing their end: dying embers, rotting leaves, the setting sun, clothes worn thin, and men who pass on, infinitely delicate, rich, and soft.

It is astonishing to see how the creasing of the mouth is exactly governed by the aperture of the eyes, which also dictates the wrinkling of the nose. The slightest fold in the skin, the slightest protrusion of a vein, is the faithful, meticulous translation of three corresponding sources: the character, the life, and the emotion of the moment.”

Marcel Proust | This excerpt is taken from Proust's essay titled as 'Chardin and Rembrandt' published by David Zwirner Books. The text is translated from French to English by Jennie Feldman.