Commentary, Gallery

Pen to Palette // A Visual Inventory of Gustave Flaubert’s Personal Belongings at the Time of His Death

“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your own work,” wrote Flaubert in a letter to Gertrude Tennant, December 25, 1876.

Joanna Naborsky, a “book lover’s illustrator” living in New York,  was rifling around in the Brooklyn Public Library recently and stumbled across Geoffrey Wall’s biography of the writer, Flaubert: A Life, which she claims sort of fell from her hands and opened itself to an index of Flaubert’s personal belongings compiled 12 days after his death. Wall describes this index as “a strangely cold mirror of the life that had unfolded in and amongst this elegant constellation of things.”

We love Naborsky’s colorful, wiggly renderings of Flaubert’s panama hat, his 48 porcelain dinner plates, his tiger, lynex and bear skin rugs, his arrows, his mandolin, his axe, his Basque drum, and etc. In an interview with the Paris Review, Naborsky said what drew her to the project was that “the list is barren, orderly, lyrical. It spoke of a life in the way ‘That vase’ speaks of a life now gone in Philip Larkin’s ‘Home Is So Sad.’ On a more tactile level, I saw that I would get to draw javelins, animal skins, and thirty-five champagne glasses.” Naborsky’s playful, exuberant drawing style animates the archive and also betrays her love of the written word.

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