Friday, March 26, 2010

The Little Devils of Malraux

I can’t pretend to know a great deal about my subject, but perhaps an avid interest will supply some of the dimension necessary to support my impressions. French writer, art critic and theorist, André Malraux (1901-1976) was something of an intellectual celebrity, and quite well respected in France during the middle of the 20th century. Time has diminished his

stature somewhat, and present day art historians have dismissed, or now ignore the writing of Malraux. I believe he was always a man difficult to understand. Critics have described his theories as either vague, inscrutable or eccentric. But in spite of the difficulty, Malraux had in his favor a lifelong passion for life, art and literature.

Between the years 1946 and 1966 he produced a wealth of sketches which are known as his Dyables, or ‘Little Devils.’ These are not full-blown drawings of immediately recognizable subjects, but rather small surreal ‘doodles’ rising from the writer’s depth of thought. They cannot be classified as projects or preparatory work, but drawings Malraux put in the margins of letters, manuscripts and on scraps of paper—what we call marginalia. They are done in simple lines and curvilinear patterns of imaginary characters somewhere between dream and reality.

The Dyables are examples of the writer’s fascination with fantasy, or in his language, farfelu. This farfelu was essential to Malraux’s view of art, literature and the world.

I unexpectedly stumbled upon an exhibition of the Dyable sketches a few years back, and was charmed by their somewhat mad or bizarre quality. It is as though each one holds you momentarily captured in its grip while you puzzle out a meaning. The fact that many of them first appeared in the margins of a letter or manuscript only adds to their charm. I have long been drawn to comment and illustration in the margins of something I am reading.

1 comment:

  1. Malraux's stature as an art theorist has been vastly underestimated. Art historians such as Gombrich attacked him because they feared he was trespassing on their turf. But he was an art theorist who took account of the history of art; he never sought to be an art historian.

    This is only one of the many misunderstandings surrounding his fascinating work.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America