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“A Half-Open Door”

Pieter de Hooch’s The Mother

Pieter de Hooch’s The Mother

In Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, Charles Swann uses his knowledge of art and music to convince himself that the love of his life is Odette de Crécy. First, he discovers a musical phrase by the composer Vinteuil which Odette also loves. Then there is the matter of the paintings. Listening to Vinteuil, his mind wanders to the work of a Dutch painter:

He would begin with the sustained violin tremolos that are heard alone for a few measures, occupying the entire foreground, then all of a sudden they seemed to move away and, as in those paintings by Pieter de Hooch, which assume greater depth because of the narrow frame of a half-open door, away in the distance, in a different color, in the velvet of an interposed light, the little phrase would appear, dancing, pastoral, interpolated, episodic, belonging to another world. It rippled past, simple and immortal, distributing here and there the gifts of its grace, with the same ineffable smile….

From my own past, I know well that one makes use of bogus comparisons to crystallize one’s growing love for a young woman. I remember one whose facial expression kept bringing the Latin word claritas to mind. It turned out that, like Swann, I was deceiving myself with someone whose motivations were anything but clear. But, such is life.

I am fascinated by Proust’s references to art and would like to recommend Eric Karpeles’s excellent book, Paintings in Proust, to anyone venturing into In Search of Lost Time.