Luis Marsans, the artist who best illustrated Marcel Proust

Coinciding with the centenary of Proust’s death, the Vila Casas Foundation in Barcelona pays tribute to him through the work that the painter Marsans dedicated to his immortal universe.

In the opinion of the greatest experts, the Barcelonan Luis Marsans (1930-2015) has been the best illustrator of Proustian work. To reach that rank that places him in a unique place, Marsans needed repeated frequenting of In Search of Lost Time , as well as a personal experience of that post-war Paris that still preserved certain echoes of the world of yesterday. In the Paris of the fifties, in addition, the Catalan had the fortune to meet leading figures of surrealism: Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, or Max Ernst.

Apparently very little trace of that influence remains in his painting, save in the no less than showing the young Marsans the spell of automatic composition. Thanks to this, Marsans was able to adopt the role of medium, something like a vigilant soul awaiting a revealing appearance before the role. This method made of impulse would reach the zenith in the approach of him to In Search of Lost Time . According to Marsans’ own confession: “work on Proust is always automatic. I usually start with some automatic doodles, which suddenly get hooked on something that is sleeping in the subconscious”.

Illustration by Luis Marsans

Vila Casas Foundation

Unlike the conventional illustrator, Marsans reflects what he has read in the past and has been filtered by memory. He rarely paints or portrays what is immediate in life, or in a work, but what the tide of Time has been depositing on his beach. When speaking of the almost magical relationship that Marsans maintains with Proust, in an unparalleled complicity, it is worth remembering that this relationship goes beyond his devotion to one of the artistic peaks of the 20th century. It would seem that in this case both the theme and the attitude to capture and retain it matter. Then the creation.

It is without a doubt another similarity between these two great artists whose art resides in the reunion with what has been lived. In the same way that Proust was not an author who wrote in cafes, copying people’s words naturally, neither did Marsans go out into the world armed with an easel and a box of paints. It is true that the master from Barcelona had a solid figurative training and also appreciated the work of geniuses who began to quarantine it, such as Cézanne. But his inspirational motives are not Mont Sainte-Victorie, or the villages of Provence, but the physical and moral landscape of a book.

The method

The painter explained that his work on Proust was “always automatic. I usually start with some automatic doodles, which suddenly get hooked on something that is sleeping in the subconscious”

It is precisely in its pages where Marsans finds, so to speak, the accidents and reliefs of nature, until forming an amazing atlas of human geography. Only in this way can we understand the obsessive desire to draw so many fictional creatures that escape from the text like a gallery of ghosts. Beings who were alive, yes, in Proust’s youth, who were later reborn in his maturity through the word, and who are finally resurrected now through some strokes of black ink that carry ashes and diamonds alike. That is the Proust of Marsans, who continues to amaze for his extraordinary delicacy, not at odds with depth, always at the service of a masterpiece that tells us about the ravages that Time –that great sculptor from Yourcenar– provokes in the human creature . And in everything it touches.


The painter Luis Marsans

File, Archive

Finally, it is necessary to point out that this extraordinary art exhibition encompasses other spheres of Marsans that coincide with the Proustian imaginary. This is the case of the legendary libraries of the Barcelona painter (books in which the narrator of the search), or the twilights of Venice, or the deserted boulevards of Barcelona, ​​which were never so Parisian, although passed through a Bergman dream, or those views by the sea, which remind us of the Lido, where the angelic figure of Tadzio is projected against the light signaling a veiled dawn to the old people who are dying on the beach. All this belongs to Marsans, insofar as it is a testimony to the best European culture, but also to Proust. Or vice versa. That is why, in this exciting ceremony of recovered time, the figures of the French genius and the great Catalan painter resurface with a supernatural luminosity, united in life, in death and in art, prolonging a dialogue that manages to win, for an instant. , to that monster of condemnation and salvation. Called Time.

From Proust to Marsans. In search of temps perdut

Curators: Glòria Farrés and Àlex Susanna. Vila Casas Foundation, Espais Volart, Barcelona. www. Until January 15.

Luis Marsans, the artist who best illustrated Marcel Proust