Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Painting

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Amsterdam University Press, 2006 - Art - 223 pages
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“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.

 

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Page 85 - Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them...
Page 156 - In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure...
Page 188 - Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for art's sake, has most; for art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments
Page 44 - the Italian Painter attends only to the invariable, the great, and general ideas, which are fixed and inherent in universal nature." I was led into the subject of this letter by endeavouring to fix the original cause of this conduct of the Italian Masters. If it can be proved that by this choice they selected the most beautiful part of the creation, it will...
Page 57 - I find this conclusion more impressed upon me, — that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly, is poetry, prophecy, and religion, — all in one.
Page 43 - I met a lady in the meads, Full beautiful — a faery's child, Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild. I...
Page 13 - Smit with the love of sister-arts we came, And met congenial, mingling flame with flame ; Like friendly colours found them both unite, And each from each contract new strength and light. How oft...
Page 14 - But I cannot say, from my own experience, that the same process takes place in transferring our ideas to canvas ; they gain more than they lose in the mechanical transformation. One is never tired of painting, because you have to set down not what you knew already, but what you have just discovered.
Page 15 - I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness — in a landscape selected at random — is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain.
Page 56 - There was a double bed, a mirror, a double bed in the mirror, a closet door with mirror, a bathroom door ditto, a blue-dark window, a reflected bed there, the same in the closet mirror...

About the author (2006)

Gerard de Vries’s writings on Nabokov have appeared in Russian Literature Triquarterly, Nabokov Studies, Revue de Littérature Comparée, and The Nabokovian. Donald Barton Johnson is professor emeritus of Russian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Worlds in Regression: Some Novels of Vladimir Nabokov. Liana Ashenden is a researcher who studies Bosch.

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