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Culture matérielle : le fil d'Ariane de Marcel Proust, de la Grèce préhellénique à l'Art nouveau

Abstract : Without being an archeology buff to the same degree Sigmund Freud was, Marcel Proust could not avoid the shock brought on by the discovery of primitive Greece and, in particular, by the Knossos excavations carried out in 1900 by Arthur Evans, which were responsible for a raging Cretomania at that time. His few allusions to Minoan civilization serve as a complement to the images of the Ballets Russes and Fortuny gowns found in Remembrance of Things Past, both of which stem from the Cretan revival. Léon Bakst, who had made a trip to Greece in 1907 and brought back a great number of sketches of Crete, was continually inspired thereby for his theater costumes and sets, and it was at a dinner at Madeleine Lemaire's home, in 1908, that the Hispano-Venetian fashion designer, whose first logo reproduced the Minoan labyrinth, presented in France his "Knossos shawls," which were created in Venice in 1906 and shown in Berlin in 1907 at an exhibition inaugurated by a lecture from the author of Elektra, Hugo von Hofmannsthal. These shawls, prefigured by the pseudo-Greek drapery of Sarah Bernhardt and of Maeterlinck's regular actress Georgette Leblanc, borrowed in particular from the catalogue of motifs reproduced in 1893 by Aloïs Riegl in the chapter about Mycenaean ornamentation in his Problems of Style: Foundations for a History of Ornament. The academic world and the theatrical world were united in the same fervor: while the salon of Madeleine Lemaire, a great friend of Proust, was open to Mariano Fortuny's Knossos shawls, the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres invited, to two of its sessions, the author of a long, scholarly paper on pre-Hellenic costumes—Désiré Chaineux, a draftsman archeologist working at the Comédie Française—seconded by the fashion designer Jacques Doucet. The connection between Fortuny and Bakst within Proust's work had hardly been elucidated at all before Guillermo de Osma did so: Fortuny preceded Bakst in the invention of fabrics and theatrical lighting that would influence the Ballets Russes' director, who, in turn, led the fashion designer to introduce a bolder chromatic scale2. Despite their geographical distance, these two men belonged to the same world and crafted a shared universe. In this context, one will hardly be surprised that the archaic Greece (in the broad, therefore vague sense) privileged by Proust was frequently associated with the theatrical world. In order to elucidate the Cretan references found in Remembrance, it would be better, however, to refer to the history of archeology and of the decorative arts than to mythology.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, February 15, 2022 - 9:59:09 AM
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Sophie Basch. Culture matérielle : le fil d'Ariane de Marcel Proust, de la Grèce préhellénique à l'Art nouveau. Arts & Sociétés, 2016. ⟨hal-03574330⟩

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