“Only a petty mind, an artist who at most speaks and dresses as such, looks solely for people in whom he 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.” --Marcel Proust
Long overlooked in Proust’s posthumously published writings, Chardin and Rembrandt, written when he was only 24 years old, not only reemphasizes the importance of visual art to his development, but contains the seeds of his later work. Submitted in 1895 by Proust to the newspaper Revue hebdomadaire (it was rejected), this essay is much more than a straightforward piece of art criticism. It is a literary experiment in which an unnamed narrator gives advice to a young man suffering from melancholy, taking him on an imaginary tour through the Louvre where his readings of Chardin imbue the everyday world with new meaning, and his ruminations on Rembrandt take his melancholic pupil beyond the realm of mere objects.
Published for the first time as a stand-alone volume and newly translated, this edition, part of the David Zwirner Books ekphrasis series, aims to introduce a wider audience to one of Proust’s most important pieces on art. "For the true artist," as Proust writes, "as for the natural scientist, every type is interesting, and even the smallest muscle has its importance." The same could be said of the author’s own work—every essay has its own crucial place in the formation of his groundbreaking oeuvre.
The afterword by renowned Proust scholar Alain Madeleine-Perdrillat, originally published in the French by Le Bruits du Temps, is an impassioned argument in favor of returning to the lost paths of Proust’s early thinking. It sees, in the passage from Chardin’s world of objects to Rembrandt’s contemplative paintings, a movement toward the radical interiority for which Proust would later become widely celebrated as a novelist. Written at the beginning of his literary career, Chardin and Rembrandt gestures back to some of Proust’s earliest notes on art, while creating space for what was to come.
Marcel Proust (1871–1922) is best known for his novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), which was published in seven volumes between 1913 and 1927, and is considered one of the most important works of the 20th century.
Jennie Feldman is a freelance writer and translator. She has written two collections of poems, The Lost Notebook (2005) and Swift (2012), and translated Jacques Réda’s poetry, Treading Lightly: Selected Poems 1961–1975 (2005), as well as his autobiographical work, The Mirabelle Pickers (Aller aux mirabelles) (2012). She is co-editor and translator, with Stephen Romer, of Into the Deep Street: Seven Modern French Poets, 1938–2008 (2009).
Alain Madeleine-Perdrillat teaches at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA) and is the author of an important monograph on Georges Seurat (1990), a study of the letters of Nicolas de Staël (2003), and numerous articles and essays on literature, painting, and photography. He served as the director of communication for the Réunion des musées nationaux for many years.