Nabokov and the Art of Painting
Gerard de Vries, D. Barton Johnson
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Vladimir Nabokov was one of the greatest novelists of the previous century and his mastery of English and Russian prose is unequalled. Nabokov had originally trained to become a painter and shared Marc Chagall’s tutor in Paris. In Nabokov and the Art of Painting the authors demonstrate how the art of painting is interwoven with the narratives. His novels, which refer to over a hundred paintings, show a brilliance of colours and light and dark are in a permanent dialogue with each other.
Following the introduction describing the many associations Nabokov made between the literary and visual arts, several of his novels are discussed in detail: Laughter in the Dark, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Pnin, Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada. Separate chapters are devoted to Leonardo da Vinci and Hieronymus Bosch, as Nabokov had a special appreciation for both painters. The authors show how the pictorial gave an extra depth to the great themes of love and loss in Nabokov’s work.
“Sounds have colors and colors have smells.” This sentence in Ada is only one of the many moments in Nabokov’s work where he sought to merge the visual into his rich and sensual writing. This lavishly illustrated study is the first to examine the role of the visual arts in Nabokov’s oeuvre and to explore how art deepens the potency of the prominent themes threaded throughout his work.
The authors trace the role of art in Nabokov’s life, from his alphabetic chromesthesia—a psychological condition in which letters evoke specific colors—to his training under Marc Chagall’s painting instructor to his deep admiration for Leonardo da Vinci and Hieronymus Bosch. They then examine over 150 references to specific works of art in such novels as Laughter in the Dark, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Pnin, Lolita, Ada, and Pale Fire and consider how such references reveal new emotional aspects of Nabokov’s fiction.
A fascinating and wholly original study, Nabokov and the Art of Painting will be invaluable reading for scholars and enthusiasts of Nabokov alike.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black, 1871 Beardsley recurs most frequently in Lolita. The first time this name is referred to is at the beginning of chapter 11, part one, when the names of Dolly’s class is listed, one of them being Aubrey McFate.4 Beardsley reappears as the name of the town where the Beardsley School for Girls is situated, the school which Dolly will attend for some time, as well as the Beardsley College for Women. And finally Beardsley’s full name is
Dobuzhinski, Alexander Benois – so dear to me in those days’ (236). And asked 62 vladimir nabokov and the art of painting Nabokov bw(d) 02-11-2005 10:26 Pagina 63 about his opinion of artists like Malevich and Kandinsky, Nabokov answers: ‘I prefer the experimental decade that coincided with my boyhood – Somov, Benois… Vrubel and Dobuzhinski’(SO 170).These painters all contributed to Mir Iskusstva (The World of Art), an art magazine whose first issue appeared in 1898. This magazine
by the painting’s flowers – a motif that accompanies botanical Ada through the novel, and second, punningly, by Ada’s allusion to her own, Van’s, and the ‘Primavera’ figure’s bare/bear feet. Van signals recognition of her allusion by his reply: ‘Good for you, Pompeianella…’ The Pompeian Villa recurs when the nonagenarian Van reconstructs the early history of his desire for Ada. He recalls his arousal as he sat next to her as she built a card castle. He now confesses his hope that it would topple
pun in the margin of the copy of Ada he gave to his French translator: ‘Con d’or = Cunt of Gold.’20 Nabokov’s insistence on clarifying a fairly obvious pun to a French speaker is cause for reflection. The immediate allusion is to Miss Condor’s ‘lamé loincloth.’ The term lamé refers to fabric worked with gold and silver thread – hence the gold of Lucette’s nickname for her rival. But once again, the playful verbal detail involves a pictorial subtext. (See colour illustration 24.) This may evoke
Lucette at twelve is already in love with Van, and the happiest moment of her life is when she sits on Van’s lap during their ride home from the picnic. Other aspects of the painting are important.22 Following Brian Boyd, Dana Draganoiu noted that Manet’s work echoes a series of earlier paintings by Marcantonio Raimondi’s Judgement of Paris (c. 1520), Giorgione’s Pastoral Concert (1508), and several other pieces. Although the match of the Herb/Manet painting is not as close as one might like, it