When Life Imitates Art
Botticellis Zipporah which inspired Proust to fall in love with Odette causing him to write À la recherche du temps perdu also fascinated Ruskin as much as it did Swann. There’s a famous passage where Odette opens the door with a cold, she’s sulky, her hair is loose and undone, her skin is patchy, and Swann, who has never cared about her until that moment, falls in love with her because she looks like a Botticelli girl from a slightly damaged fresco. Which Proust himself only knew from a reproduction. He never saw the original, in the Sistine Chapel. But even so – the whole novel is in some ways about that moment. And the damage is part of the attraction, the painting’s blotchy cheeks. Even through a copy Proust was able to re- dream
something all his own from it into the world. Because – the line of beauty is the line of beauty. It doesn’t matter if it’s been through the Xerox machine a hundred times.
What did Oscar Wilde mean when he wrote that “life imitates art far more than art imitates life”? Simply put, this quote from The Decay of Lying (1891) is about how art affects the way we look at the world around us. Take fog, for instance:
J.M.W. Turner, Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight, 1835, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
One of Wilde’s ideas is that we appreciate the beauty of fog in nature today because painters, such as Turner, revealed that beauty.
Another famous example is how Nietzsche was moved by the works of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. These two masters gave Nietzsche his most intense emotions in front of paintings, so whenever he saw a beautiful natural landscape after that, he saw it as a Poussin or Claude Lorrain painting, which his writings confirm:
Nicolas Poussin, Landscape with Ruins, c.1634, Prado Museum, Madrid
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