Impressionist Views of Normandy

At the Grand Hotel in Cobourg, Normandy, Nicholas sees:

In the early morning light, the paint on the side walls of the hotel had taken on a pinkish tone, very subtle and delicate, blending gently with that marine vapourness of atmosphere so enthusiastically endorsed by the Impressionists when they painted this luminous northern shore. [MP 170-171/167-168 ]

Boats on the Beach at Etretat Claude Monet, 1883 oil on canvas private collectdion photo in public domain from WikiArt.org

Boats on the Beach at Etretat
Claude Monet, 1883
oil on canvas
private collectdion
photo in public domain from WikiArt.org

Impressionsts, Normandy — Monet immediately springs to mind, but we think that Whistler’s seascapes are more appropriate to this reference.

Harmony in Blue and Silver James McNeill Whistler, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in Isabella Steward Garner Museum, Boston www.gardnermuseu.org

Harmony in Blue and Silver
James McNeill Whistler,
oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in
Isabella Steward Garner Museum, Boston
http://www.gardnermuseu.org

Proust stayed at the Grand Hotel in Cobourg every summer from 1907 through 1914.  Jenkins recalls the connection:

‘Just spell out the name of that place we stopped over last night, Major Jenkins,’ said Cobb.

‘C-A-B-O-U-R-G, sir.’

As I uttered the last letter, scales fell from my eyes. Everything was transformed. It all came back — like the tea-soaked madeleine itself — in a torrent of memory … Cabourg … We had just driven out of Cabourg … out of Proust’s Balbec. [MP 172/167-168]

Jenkins lists many of Proust’s characters who had visited the Grand Hotel: Albertine, Saint-Loup, Bloch, Charlus. “Here Elstir had painted; Prince Odoacer played golf.” [MP 172/167-168]

We quote Proust without pastiche:

But just as Elstir, when the bay of Balbec, losing its mystery, had become for me simply a portion interchangeable with any other, of the total quantity of salt water distributed over the earth’s surface, had suddenly restored  to its personality of its own by telling me that is was the gulf of opal painted by Whistler in his Harmonies in Blue and Silver … [In Search of Lost Time, Volume III: The Guermantes Way  Enright/Kilmartin/Moncrieff translation]

Whistler was an important figure to Proust; among painters, in his novel, Proust mentions only Vermeer and Rembrandt more than Whistler . They met only once, and Proust came away with a pair of Whistler’s gloves as a souvenir. Whistler actually painted Harmonies in Blue and Silver at Trouville-sur-Mer, a number of miles east of Cabourg, but on the shifting sands of fact and fiction that Proust and Powell sift so elegantly, we can easily join Jenkins in imagining the beach at Balbec

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