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The Unknown Masterpiece (La Comédie Humaine)

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3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  1,744 Ratings  ·  130 Reviews
One of Honore 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 Cezanne, Henry James, Picasso, and New Wave director Jacques Rivette, is, in critic Dore Ashton's wor ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published August 31st 2000 by NYRB Classics (first published 1831)
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Glenn Russell
Jan 26, 2017 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing


Artist and His Model (1926) - by Pablo Picasso

This New York Review Books edition is indeed a classic since it includes not only two highly philosophical works by French master Honoré de Balzac on the nature of art and music but also an illuminating introductory essay by philosopher of art/art critic Arthur C. Danto. For the purposes of my review I will focus the author's tour de force, The Unknown Masterpiece.

The story revolves around three painters - Porbus, Poussin and Frenhofer. Porbus can b
...more
Kalliope

This is one of Balzac’s little jewels.

From the very start Balzac sets its date and location. We are in 1612, in the early Regency of Maria de Medici, since only a couple of years had elapsed from the assassination of her husband and King Henri IV. Their son Louis XIII was then only eight years old. And the location is, as we can expect, Paris. But not just any place in Paris. We are in the Rue des Grands-Augustins, which is a perpendicular to the Boulevard of the same name which runs parallel to
...more
Lisa
Jun 25, 2014 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Hé! Hé! Malgré le malheur des temps, nous causerons peinture!”

One of those unforgettable, perfect stories on the purpose of art and literature!

Written by the master storyteller Balzac in the first half of the 19th century, recapturing a century of wild debates on the question: “What is art? And what is the role of the artist?”, it somehow offers a conclusion to the classical era and prophetically opens up the discussion that will dominate the century to come: should an artist be a Pygmalion, tr
...more
Reckoner
Τι είναι Τέχνη ?? Υπάρχει το Τέλειο ?? Και αν υπάρχει πως, με ποια μορφή θα το παρουσιάσεις. Πως να αποδώσεις την φύση όταν είναι τοσο χαοτική, όταν το μονο που σου μένει είναι να την μιμηθείς. Ο μαιτρ Frenhofer έχει διδαχτεί τα μυστικά της σωστής χρήσης του φωτός από τον δάσκαλο Mabuse. Βγάζει πύρινους λόγους σχετικά με την τέχνη της ζωγραφικής και οι νεαροί Πόρμπις και Πουσέν τον ακούν αντιδρώντας διαφορετικά. Ο πρώτος είναι ένας καταξιωμένος ζωγράφος οπότε είναι πιο κυνικός και σκεπτικιστής, ...more
Chris_P
Ευτυχώς όχι και τόσο άγνωστο το συγκεκριμένο αριστούργημα. Καταπληκτικός ο Μπαλζάκ, άργησα αλλά το έμαθα. Δεν είναι μόνο οι περιγραφές του, αλλά και η σκιαγράφηση που κάνει στους χαρακτήρες που τον κάνουν ξεχωριστό. Έχουμε πει και ξαναπεί για την ικανότητα του Ντόστο στην ψυχογράφηση των χαρακτήρων του, το ίδιο και για του Τολστόι και του Τσβάιχ και του Ντίκενς και πάει λέγοντας. Όμως, όπως ο καθένας από αυτούς έχει τον δικό του τρόπο, έτσι και ο Μπαλζάκ σε συγκλονίζει με τον λόγο του χωρίς να μ ...more
Teresa
Feb 25, 2016 Teresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I read the story, I knew Nicolas Poussin was a real artist, but I didn't realize Frans Porbus was until afterward. Not that that changes anything. I can only guess Zola used the names of two real artists to give his tale and the fictional Frenhofer even more authenticity than his words already seem to do.

A.S. Byatt's Portraits in Fiction has a breakdown and interpretation of this story that says it all (except that I found Frenhofer's 'lectures' a bit boring, like, well, lectures).
Panos
Jul 20, 2016 Panos rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Όπως το λέει και ο τίτλος: αριστούργημα! (ευελπιστώ όχι άγνωστο). Και η έκδοση της Άγρας είναι πραγματικό κομψοτέχνημα!
J.G. Keely
Feb 06, 2013 J.G. Keely rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-story, realism
I must say that I greatly enjoyed Balzac's exploration of the idea that in art, it is not enough to simply copy reality. There is a reason that 'art' shares its root with 'artificial'. When we take the form of life and reproduce it on the page, or in sculpture, it becomes reduced and limited by the medium, losing its vitality and becoming corpselike. When we reduce a breathing, three-dimensional figure to the unmoving, flat plane of the canvas, depth is inevitably lost. So, as artists, we must r ...more
Ellie
A haunting story that I didn't quite understand but loved anyway. What is real? What is art? Which is more important, love or art? It seemed to be about the power of the act of art as even greater than the product. Is the old man's work a masterpiece or a disaster? Has he lost his mind in the pursuit of a beauty more real than reality, more perfect than is humanly possible to portray? This is certainly a story I will read again.
Semih Eker
Apr 20, 2016 Semih Eker rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kütüphane
Balzac eserde, duayen bir ressam üzerinden mükemmeliyetçiliği işlemiş. Şahsen eseri beğenmek ve beğenmemek arasında kaldım ama ne kadarını anladığım konusunda da emin olamadığım kitaplardan birisi oldu(ileriki bir süreçte tekrar okumam gerekecek). Öykünün sanat üzerinden ilerlemesi ayrı bir hava katmış.
Maria
Apr 28, 2013 Maria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: racconti
Immaginate, solo per un attimo, di poter essere in grado di distinguere in voi stessi ciò che è importante da ciò che non lo è; pensate di poterlo vedere, distintamente, di poterlo toccare.
Provate a raccogliere l'essenziale e a lasciare il superfluo.
Guardate la vostra infanzia, osservate la vostra vita e portate via tutto quello che vi ha reso quello che siete ora: prendete le gioie, le risate, prendete i litigi, prendete le lacrime.
Non tralasciate i complessi d'inferiorità, le delusioni e i f
...more
Justin Evans
Jul 10, 2015 Justin Evans rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
In his essay 'The Death of the Author,' William Gass fires off a machine gun at Roland Barthes, and Balzac, thanks to Barthes's "S/Z", is taken out as collateral damage. "Balzac relishes [bourgeois] stereotypes and pat phrases and vulgar elegancies; his taste is that of the turtle which has found itself in a robust soup; he, too, would flatter the reader, the public, the world which receives him until it receives him well and warmly; and Roland Barthes, for all his fripperies like like on a slee ...more
Lisa
Mar 29, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: Balzac Yahoo Reading group
Shelves: kindle, c19th, france
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
NAMIK SOMEL
Oct 13, 2016 NAMIK SOMEL rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: öykü-story
"Her yüz bir dünyadır; resmini yaptığı kişi ressama yüce bir hayal biçiminde, ışıktan renkler içinde görünmüş, tanrısal bir parmak onu fazlalıklarından soyarken, bir yaşamın tüm geçmişi içinden fışkıran dışavurum pınarlarını da göstermiştir."

Balzac'ın ünlü öyküsü " Gizli Başyapıt" mükemmeli arayan bir ressamı anlatıyor. Bir solukta okunan kısa etkili bir metin..

"Desen bir iskelet sağlar resme, renkse yaşamdır ; ama iskelesiz yaşam, yaşamışız bir iskeletten daha eksik bir şeydir. "
Tasos
Aug 03, 2015 Tasos rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ό, τι άξιζε να ειπωθεί ποτέ για τον καλλιτέχνη και το δημιούργημά του σε λιγότερες από 100 σελίδες, από τις οποίες εμπνεύστηκε ο Ζακ Ριβέτ το δικό του (γνωστό) αριστούργημα, την Ωραία Καυγατζού.
Eleanor
Mar 29, 2017 Eleanor rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, 2017-books, art
Thank you to Lisa for writing about this short but profound story. A tragic tale about perfection and destruction, and the danger in pursuing the former too far.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This volume actually contains two stories - The Unknown Masterpiece and Gambara. Both are about artists (one painter, one composer) who are on the brink of modern styles, and both stories speak to what art is, how an artist becomes a master of craft, and what realities we are willing to embrace in order for the art to succeed.

I feel like either of these stories would be compelling discussion with music or art majors in college. These are both short but dense with ideas. I am not certain how read
...more
Anna
Mar 08, 2015 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Ο Μπαλζάκ, που μανιωδώς επιδιόρθωνε και ξαναδούλευε τα γραπτά του, γράφει το 1831 μια μικρή ιστορία με θέμα την αγωνία του καλλιτέχνη να φτάσει την τελειότητα. Ο ήρωάς του είναι ο ζωγράφος Frenhofer που διαρκώς δουλεύει το αριστούργημά του, σε βαθμό που στο τέλος χάνει τα λογικά του και το καταστρέφει. Αλλά δεν θέλω να μιλήσω για την ιστορία. Θέλω να μιλήσω για το παρακείμενο αυτής της έκδοσης από τις εκδόσεις Άγρα, για το υλικό που συνοδεύει το γραπτό του Μπαλζάκ.

Ειδικά σε κείμενα κλασικά όπως
...more
Maria Thomarey
Jan 28, 2016 Maria Thomarey rated it liked it
3,5
Chris
Nov 20, 2016 Chris rated it liked it
2016 NYRB Renewal Freebie for Book of the Month Club.

I enjoyed the first story, but was less enamored of the second.
  LunaBel
Mar 13, 2017 LunaBel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Serres made me read this... And now I see why he chose this short story in the analysis of Genesis.
Ben
Oct 12, 2012 Ben rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is the first I've read of Honore de Balzac, and I was not in the least disappointed. More poetry than prose, the writing was among the finest I've ever read, reminding me at times of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky and at other times of Djuna Barnes (whom T.S. Eliot said one must be trained in understanding poetry in order to fully appreciate). It was so easy to get lost in the detailed descriptions and the dialogue between the characters that I finished the relatively short book in just a day. "The ...more
Laura
Mar 12, 2010 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dawn
Location 86:
La mission de l'art n'est pas de copier la nature, mais de l'exprimer  !

Nous avons à saisir l'esprit, l'âme, la physionomie des choses et des êtres. Les effets  ! les effets  ! mais ils sont les accidents de la vie, et non la vie.

Location 103:
La Forme est, dans ses figures, ce qu'elle est chez nous, un truchement pour se communiquer des idées, des sensations, une vaste poésie.

Location 237:
Comme Orphée, je descendrais dans l'enfer de l'art pour en ramener la vie.

Location 396:
Les fruit
...more
Dorcas
I'm not the best judge of short stories since they're really not my thing. But I did enjoy this, sort of. The writing is good, even though I was left with more questions than answers when I'd finished. Maybe its too deep for me, I don't know.

But if I was to give the Master painter in this story a piece of advice (and who am I?) I'd say "beauty in art is knowing when to call it finished. "

There's such a thing as overbeating egg whites.

Its only 30 pages and is free. Read it for yourself and see
...more
Antonis
Nov 27, 2016 Antonis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-possession
Ένα μικρό κομψοτέχνημα. Η πρώτη μου επαφή με τον Μπαλζάκ μου φανέρωσε μια θεϊκή πένα, έναν άνθρωπο που πρώτα και κύρια ήξερε πολύ καλά την τέχνη της γραφής, αλλά κυρίως έναν μεγάλο συγγραφέα που φιλοσοφεί, εδώ για την τέχνη και τον καλλιτέχνη, αφηγούμενος. Εξαιρετική η μετάφραση του Δημήτρη Δημητριάδη, καθώς και συνολικά η έκδοση (Εκδόσεις Άγρα).
Kathy  Olivos
No sé qué reseñar... No entendí el trasfondo, pero Balzac escribe tan re lindo.

** Acabo de leer "el retrato oval" de Poe. Creo que es una versión mejor lograda de esta historia.
Marzio
Aug 20, 2014 Marzio rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Both of these stories have art and artists as their focus. The stories are part of the Balzac group called "Philosophical Studies." I have read little philosophy, and I'm not adept at gleaning philosophy in books nor putting my own outlook into any concise phrases.

The Unknown Masterpiece focuses on a painter whose masterpiece of 10-years work has never been seen. He seems to feel that he will be giving up a part of himself should he show it. Gambara is the story of a musician and operatic compos
...more
Harry
Nov 29, 2009 Harry rated it really liked it
I wanted to read Balzac, and "The Unknown Masterpiece" has a special place of appreciation in art history. Cezanne loved it, Picasso loved it, every Frenchman with a brush and a beret seems to have been cast in its spell.

Balzac captures a lot of what painting is about. It's the story of an artist trying to create work that rivals the creation of life; he's trying to make a painting that has the power of a living thing. But even though this story, along with the one it's paired with in this volu
...more
Meghan Fidler
Jul 04, 2013 Meghan Fidler rated it really liked it
In "The Unknown Masterpiece" Balzac focuses on the social life which surrounds desire and pursuit. The first short story, the namesake of the collection, was my favorite of the two, partly because of my own fascination with being a model, or muse, for an artist. The novel contains the usual brilliant character descriptions, and both short stories are worth reading. Here is an excerpt from the first narrative, provided with the hopes that it might get a potential reader to pick up the collection: ...more
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NYRB Classics: The Unknown Masterpiece, by Honoré de Balzac 1 4 Oct 30, 2013 09:26PM  
  • My Fantoms
  • Alien Hearts
  • Mouchette
  • The Masterpiece (Les Rougon-Macquart, #14)
  • Count d'Orgel's Ball
  • When the World Spoke French
  • Rock Crystal (New York Review Books Classics)
  • The Engagement
  • Pages from the Goncourt Journals
  • Witch Grass
  • Novels in Three Lines
  • No Tomorrow
  • The Pure and the Impure
  • Mr. Fortune's Maggot; and, The Salutation
  • The Pilgrim Hawk
  • The New York Stories of Edith Wharton
  • Sunflower
  • Peasants and Other Stories
228089
Honoré de Balzac was a nineteenth-century French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the fall of Napoléon Bonaparte in 1815.

Due to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders o
...more
More about Honoré de Balzac...

Other Books in the Series

La Comédie Humaine (1 - 10 of 88 books)
  • La Maison Du Chat-Qui-Pelote
  • The Ball At Sceaux
  • Letters of Two Brides
  • The Purse
  • Modeste Mignon
  • A Start in Life
  • Albert Savarus
  • Vendetta
  • A Second Home
  • Domestic Peace

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“Young man,' Porbus said, seeing Poussin stare open-mouthed at a picture, 'Don't look at the canvas too long, it will drive you to despair.” 7 likes
“[Raphael's] great superiority is due to the instinctive sense which, in him, seems to desire to shatter form. Form is, in his figures, what it is in ourselves, an interpreter for the communication of ideas and sensations, an exhaustless source of poetic inspiration. Every figure is a world in itself, a portrait of which the original appeared in a sublime vision, in a flood of light, pointed to by an inward voice, laid bare by a divine finger which showed what the sources of expression had been in the whole past life of the subject.” 3 likes
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