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, Luis Marsans (1930-2015) from Barcelona has been the best illustrator of Proustian work. To reach that rank that places him in a unique place, Marsans needed a repeated attendance at In Search of Lost Time, as well as a personal experience of that post-war Paris that still retained certain echoes of yesterday’s world. In the Paris of the fifties, moreover, the Catalan was fortunate to meet leading figures of surrealism: Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, or Max Ernst. 

Apparently, very little trace of that influence remains in his painting, except for nothing less than showing the young Marsans the spell of automatic composition. Thanks to this, Marsans was able to adopt the role of a medium, something like a watchful soul waiting for a revealing appearance before the role. This method made of impulse would reach the zenith in his approach 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”.VerticalIllustration by Luis Marsans.

Vila Casas Foundation

Unlike the conventional illustrator, Marsans reflects what he read in the past and has been filtered by memory. He rarely paints or portrays the immediate of life, or of a work, but rather what the tide of Time has been depositing on his beach. When talking about the almost magical relationship that Marsans maintains with Proust, in unparalleled complicity, it should be remembered 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 matter to capture and retain it. Then the creation. 

It is undoubtedly another similarity between these two great artists whose art resides in the reunion with what has been lived. Just as Proust was not an author who wrote in cafes, naturally copying people’s words, neither did Marsans go out into the world armed with an easel and a box of paints. It is true that the Barcelona master had a solid figurative training and also appreciated the work of geniuses who began to quarantine it, such as Cézanne. But his inspirations are not Mont Sainte-Victorie, or the towns 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, to the point of forming an amazing atlas of human geography. Only then can we understand the obsessive desire to draw so many fictional creatures that escape from the text like a gallery of ghosts. Beings that were alive, yes, in Proust’s youth, that were later reborn in his maturity through words, and that are finally resurrected now through a few strokes of black ink that carry ashes and diamonds alike. That is the Proust de Marsans, who continues to amaze with his extraordinary delicacy, not at odds with depth, always at the service of a masterpiece that tells us about the havoc that Time –that great sculptor from Yourcenar– wreaks on the human creature. . And in everything it touches.


The painter Luis Marsans.

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 La Recherche would perhaps begin to remember), or the twilights of Venice, or the deserted boulevards of Barcelona, ​​which were never so Parisian, although passed through as a dream. by Bergman, 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 dying on the beach. All this belongs to Marsans, insofar as it bears witness to the best European culture, but also to Proust. Or vice versa. For this reason, in this exciting ceremony of recovered time, the figures of the French genius and the great Catalan painter reappear with a supernatural luminosity, united in life, death and art, prolonging a dialogue that manages to defeat, for an instant, that monster of condemnation and salvation.