Exhibition: Marcel Proust, a Parisian at the Carnavalet Museum


As incongruous as it may seem, no exhibition has hitherto examined the links between Marcel Proust and the city of Paris, where the writer was born and where he spent most of the fifty and one year of its existence. « Obvious things sometimes take a long time to get done », concedes Anne-Laure Sol, chief heritage curator at the Musée Carnavalet-Histoire de Paris, which benefits from the 150e anniversary of the birth of the author of The research to repair this oversight.

The advantage of having waited so long is that the exhibition « Marcel Proust, a Parisian novel » is rich, very rich. Period photos, paintings, handwritten documents, advertising posters, furniture, fashion accessories …

A total of 280 pieces are on display, some of which have never been shown to the public, such as this touching photo of young Marcel at 15, his eyes already smoky and down on his lip. “We approached 35 institutions and 19 private lenders. But a third of the works also come from our collections ”, specifies Valérie Guillaume, director of the Carnavalet Museum.

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Intended for connoisseurs of Proust’s work but also for neophytes, the exhibition is split in two. The first part looks at the Paris where the author lived. From the apartment in Auteuil, where he was born, in 1871, to that in rue Hamelin, not far from the Arc de triomphe, where he died, in 1922, the writer has never left the right bank of the capital. “He has known seven homes, all located in the 16e and 8e arrondissements, where most of social life took place. Proust was fundamentally a Parisian ”, assures Jean-Yves Tadié, writer and vice-president of the Society of Friends of Marcel Proust.

Influence on the work

One of the highlights of this part of the exhibition is Proust’s bedroom, with the brass bed in which the author worked – and where he rendered his soul -, his chaise longue, his pelisse and his cane. … A piece of cork that lined the walls of the alcove is also on display. « Proust lived the drawn curtains, wrote in his bed at night, never aired because he had a sickening fear of the cold… Traces of datura, a toxic plant he fumigated, were even found on the bedside in his room to treat his asthma », says Mr.me Sol, which is also the scientific curator of the exhibition.

Furniture that belonged to Marcel Proust presented at the Carnavalet Museum, as part of the exhibition

The second part focuses more on the influence that the city of Paris had on Proust’s work. Social chronicler at the start of his career, the dandy skimmed the chic evenings and frequented high society and artists, Jean Cocteau, André Breton, Alphonse Daudet, Colette… So many encounters which nourished the characters of The research. « But he also knew the working classes, through the servants he employed », assures Mr. Tadié. Numerous documents allow one to plunge back into this Paris from the end of the Second Empire until the bombardments of the First World War, which Proust endured while taking refuge at the Ritz.

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