Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913-1927) refers to over one hundred artists by name, including some of the most important painters from the early Renaissance to the early 20th century.
Among all of their works, Proust had a clear favorite. Here is what he wrote a year and a half before his death, in a letter from the beginning of May, 1921:
“Ever since I saw the View of Delft in the museum in The Hague, I have known that I had seen the most beautiful painting in the world” (source: Proust in Context (2013), edited by Adam Watt, p.84). Here is the painting:
Johannes Vermeer, View of Delft (c.1660), Mauritshuis, The Hague
The painting depicts a canal in the Dutch city of Delft, where Vermeer was born and lived his entire life. It is unusual in that Vermeer mainly painted interior scenes and focused on middle-class people rather than townscapes, but it conveys a special sense of tranquility that is typical of Vermeer’s masterpieces:
Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid (c.1660), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance (c.1664), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Vermeer had been Proust’s favorite painter since he was twenty, and the View of Delft remained his favorite painting until the end.