Réattribution des photos de Proust mort

Réattribution des photos de Proust mort


Comme un jeu dont on rebat les cartes…


L’intervention d’Allen Schill, de Turin mène à une nouvelle distribution. J’ai déjà présenté (voir la chronique Combien de photos de Proust mort ?), le cliché que son beau-père avait acheté dans une galerie de la ville, Il Fauno, exploitée par un certain Luciano Anselmino, entre 1969 et 1975, une photo qu’il pense différentes de celles connues.


À la lumière de ses différents courriels qui ont suivi, voici un ordre nouveau, à discuter à partir de Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3, Photo 4.

Seule signée, la Photo 2 est de Man Ray (Getty Collection).


Allen Schill doute que la Photo 1 soit du dadaïste américain , même si elle lui est attribuée (Musée d’Orsay). Selon mon interlocuteur, la Photo 1 et la Photo 3 sont du même auteur. Il se base notamment sur la lumière et sur les fleurs. Il attribue les deux à Emmanuel Sougez.


La Photo 4, appartenant à mon correspondant, au format 19,8 x 25,3 cm., serait de Paul Morand.


Qui a des lumières à ce sujet ? Selon M. Schill, Francis Naumann, galeriste new-yorkais et expert de Man Ray, pourrait en fournir. Qui nouerait le contact ? Marcelita ? Autre source d’informations : la Casa D’Aste Blindarte de Naples qui aurait une épreuve identique à la Photo 4. Les deux sociétés proustiennes installées dans cette ville apporteraient-elles leur aide ?


Le débat est (r)ouvert.


Parole de proustiste…

Patrice Louis


PS : Pour les anglophones, le dernier courriel d’Allen Schill :


Dear M. Louis,

Thank you once again for your letter, with the revised text for Le Fou de Proust.

Thank you also for the addresses of the two proustian societies in Naples; I will contact them.  (I wonder why there is not a single, unified society.  Are Proust studies riven by factionalism?)

Regarding your question about whether I believe that Man Ray made Photo 1, I can only confess my reliance on authorities who know better, such as yourself and the experts of Sotheby’s.  (But when authorities disagree, I am left in doubt.)  Perhaps I misunderstood you, but I was under the impression, from your article in which you cite parts of the Sotheby’s catalogue, that you shared Sotheby’s skepticism about Man Ray’s supposed authorship of Photo 1, or that you were neutral.  Now it seems you consider both Photos 1 and 2 to be the work of Man Ray (effectively agreeing with the D’Orsay).

But how can we know any of this?  It could very well be that Photo 1 is by Man Ray, but we seem to have only circumstantial evidence.  Sotheby’s – could have been 80% sure that it was by Man Ray, but out of sheer prudence and honesty labeled it instead as “author unknown”, along with the oblique view with which it was paired.  (Just as, in a criminal trial, if we are only fairly sure the defendant is guilty, it is not enough to send him to jail.)

Sotheby’s does not go into detail about the matter.  I’m inclined to doubt that Photo 1 is by Man Ray, perhaps mainly because he was a very well-known artist:  as such I would expect each exemplar (signed or unsigned) to have a fairly clear provenance that would lead us back to him.  Whoever was in possession of such a picture would not forget its prestigious authorship, even if it were unsigned.  (Mythologies often attach themselves to works of art.)  If in fact Man Ray took not just one exposure, but two, unbeknownst to Cocteau, perhaps he would not have wished to sign any prints made from the alternative exposure for fear of giving away his deception.

The big difference in illumination that we see between Photos 1 and 2, and the presence of flowers in 1, also make me suspect different moments and authors.  Of course, Man Ray might have opened a curtain and added flowers before taking the second exposure – if Photo 1 was second.  Or he might have closed a curtain and removed the flowers for Photo 2, if Photo 1 was in fact the first.  Many things are possible.

You write that Man Ray was the first to take pictures, followed by Sougez, and then Morand at some point.  If this is so, my sense as a photographer is that Photo 1 (along with Photo 3, the oblique view) were taken after Photo 2.  Perhaps more importantly than any similarity of the illumination, my sense of death-bed decorum is that, once an offering of flowers is made to the departed, one does not remove the flowers.

You mention Picon and some others who told about those days.  Of all those who say they took photographs (Man Ray, Sougez, Morand; anyone else?), did no one describe them even generally, as profiles, or oblique, or close-up?  (Was the convention of the profile in funerary portraits so strong in those years that almost any photographer, even a dilettante, would probably observe it, much as todays billions of cell-phone photographers unconsciously imitate the professionally produced images with which they are bombarded every day?)  Were any conditions imposed on Sougez and Morand, such as Cocteau (who seems to have acted as master of ceremonies, perhaps delegated by the Proust family) imposed on Man Ray?

All this leaves me more or less where I began – only more certain of my uncertainty.  If have to judge, it seems to me that Photos 1 and 3 are by Sougez (or, at least, not by Man Ray), that Photo 2 is Man Ray’s, and that Photo 4, ours, is by – Morand?  If Photo 2 is the only one by Man Ray, then Man Ray kept his word to Cocteau (which is more agreeable to believe than that he did not).

I found another exemplar of Photo 2:  in the Gilman Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The quality of the two prints is very different, and the Getty print is cropped a bit more closely, but they are plainly the same image.  The Gilman print is unsigned, at least on its face.  It is less contrasty than the Getty print – its blacks appear weak or faded (with some discoloration in the upper right), but the highlights preserve more tonality, at least in the areas near Proust’s head, at right and upper right.  (They have, oddly, less tonality near his ear and on his chest, in the foreground, where there is a very dull highlight without any detail.)  As a photographer who knows traditional printing, I cannot account for such a great difference, except by drastic dodging and burning during the enlargement, or by bleaching selected areas.  Neither print is technically very good – they resemble the prints I made when I was 17 and just learning to work in the darkroom.

Both the Getty and the Metropolitan specify the sizes.  I combined the two images in one layered file, resized them to their correct proportions, and compared the cropping.  It seems that both prints were enlarged to the same degree.  However, the Gilman print’s proportions, as seen, do not correspond to the dimensions given for it.  (The print is more squarish than its stated dimensions indicate.)

I have also found a file of Photo 3 in the collection of the Musée Francais de la Photographie, entitled:  “Proust lit de mort © Emmanuel Sougez”.  The MFP mentions “au verso, annotations manuscrites par Sougez à l’encre bleue:  “Marcel Proust sur son lit de mort”, “Paris, rue Hamelin”, “1922””.  This print is somewhat lighter than the Mante-Proust print, and shows some discoloration around the edges (similar to that of the Gilman print of Photo 2).  Dimensions 17.1 x 22,4 cm.

Musée Francais de la Photographie

(This is only a link to the “Collections” page of the MFP site, but the search term “Proust” will give you the photograph, first among several others not by Sougez.)

Pardon me for one last photographer’s comment:  although I said before that the lighting in Photos 1 and 3 is similar, I see now that this is a superficial observation.  (In fact, Photos 2 and 4 are not very different from Photo 1.)  In Photo 1, the main light comes from the upper right, a short distance from the bed, so that we see the shadows on the bedclothes and under Proust’s chin accordingly.  In Photo 3, the main light clearly originates from the left, and we see a different set of shadows.  The light from the right is gone, or much attenuated.  Notice how fully Proust’s face is illuminated in the profile, while it is penumbral in the oblique view.  (Compare the orbits of Proust’s eyes, or under his nose, or his forehead.)  The lighting was changed between exposures, regardless of who made them.  (The oblique view seems to be by Sougez – but this implies little about its “sister” print, even if both show the flowers.)  Were the windows of Proust’s room positioned so as to allow these differences?  I think that two windows would do it – one near the head of the bed, and one on the adjacent wall, just beyond the foot of the bed.

Let me beg your pardon once again for the long letter (I am not made to Tweet), and for involving you in my curiosity about a highly specialized matter.  I am neither detective nor art historian, but this research has given me some of the satisfactions of both, and a vivid sense of the complexity of human affairs.  I confess that I have become more involved in this question than I ever expected to be, while I have much else with which I am occupied (my own photography, especially).  Much of what I have said is probably of no use to you, but I only hope that a few of my observations, especially those I offer as a photographer, have been worth your attention.

Sincerely yours,

Allen Schill


CATEGORIES : Chronique/ AUTHOR : patricelouis

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