The Unknown Masterpiece and Gambara
A New York Review Books Original
One of Honoré de Balzac's most celebrated tales, "The Unknown Masterpiece" is the story of a painter who, depending on one's perspective, is either an abject failure or a transcendental genius—or both. The story, which has served as an inspiration to artists as various as Cézanne, Henry James, Picasso, and New Wave director Jacques Rivette, is, in critic Dore Ashton's words, a "fable of modern art."
Published here in a new translation by poet Richard Howard, "The Unknown Masterpiece" appears, as Balzac intended, with "Gambara," a grotesque and tragic novella about a musician undone by his dreams.
Balzac's two tragic short stories about a painter, a composer and the nature of creativity are both beautifully translated here by Howard, a poet and translator, and introduced by the art critic Arthur Danto. The experience of the artist portrayed in the The Unknown Masterpiece so influenced Picasso he moved into the house at the address Balzac had given his fictional character in Paris; these stories may thus be usefully connected to the milieu of modern art in 19th-century France. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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