Le Chef-d'œuvre inconnu
|Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu|
Image from Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu
|Author||Honoré de Balzac|
|Series||La Comédie humaine|
Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu (English "The Unknown Masterpiece") is a short story by Honoré de Balzac. It was first published in the newspaper L'Artiste with the title "Maître Frenhofer" (English: "Master Frenhofer") in August 1831. It appeared again later in the same year under the title "Catherine Lescault, conte fantastique." It was published in Balzac's Études philosophiques in 1837 and was integrated into the La Comédie humaine in 1846. At the most fundamental level, "Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu" is a reflection on art.
Young Nicolas Poussin, as yet unknown, visits the painter Porbus in his workshop. He is accompanied by the old master Frenhofer who comments expertly on the large tableau that Porbus has just finished. The painting is of Mary of Egypt, and while Frenhofer sings her praises, he hints that the work seems unfinished. With some slight touches of the paintbrush, Frenhofer transforms Porbus' painting such that Mary the Egyptian appears to come alive before their very eyes. Although Frenhofer has mastered his technique, he admits that he has been unable to find a suitable model for his own masterpiece, La Belle noiseuse, on which he has been working for ten years. This future masterpiece, that no one has yet seen, is to be the portrait of Catherine Lescault. Poussin offers his own lover, Gillette, as a potential model. Gillette's beauty is so great that it inspires Frenhofer to finish his project quickly. Poussin and Porbus come to admire the painting, but all they can see is part of a foot that has been lost in a swirl of colors. Their disappointment drives Frenhofer to madness, and he destroys the painting and kills himself.
Picasso and le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu
In 1921, Ambroise Vollard asked Picasso to illustrate Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu. Picasso was fascinated by the text and identified with Frenhofer so much that he moved to the rue des Grands-Augustins in Paris where Porbus' studio was supposedly located. It was in his new studio that he painted his own Masterpiece, Guernica. Picasso lived here during World War II.
- "The Unknown Masterpiece", translation (by Ellen Marriage?) at Project Gutenberg (full text)
- "The Hidden Masterpiece", translation by Katharine Prescott Wormeley at Project Gutenberg (full text)
- Introduction to the book
- Nicolas Poussin paintings
- (French) Le Chef-d'œuvre inconnu, audio version
|French Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
Chef d`œuvre in music: a piece for three conductors was composed by Samu Gryllus: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5589743053266992865&hl=en