When I returned to Paris for the month of September 2008, my first cultural jaunt was to the Louvre to revisit the Guérin painting of Pegge in room 54 of the Sully pavillion.
I didn’t have to go that far. Inside the pyramid, plastered all over the walls, were Pegge’s breasts! Turned into a tempting concoction by the young French artist Marcelline Delbecq, they were enticing youths to purchase a Carte Louvre Jeunes for a mere €15. Across her breasts were emblazoned the words, “Puisque la beauté est aussi dans les yeux de celui qui regarde.” I wasn’t the only one who was gazing lovingly at the image. Truly, as Plato said, “beauty is also in the eye of the beholder.”
Googling the artist, I discovered that the image came from a YouTube video that Delbecq created from the Guérin painting. In the video, the camera caresses Pegge’s hair, neck, shoulder, nipples, arms, even her ragged, dirty fingernails as Delbecq’s words unfold on the screen. Truly a love poem to the artist and his youthful model, whom I will forever associate with Pegge, my main character in Conceit.
Up to then, the Guérin portrait was not well known. It’s tucked away in the massive French painting collection, overshadowed by more famous neoclassical works by David and Ingres. Not for the first time I wondered whether Pegge was covering her breasts modestly, or allowing her nipples to peep out on purpose. The fingernails are curious: torn and dirty, they are those of an adolescent hesitating on the brink of adulthood.
After I wrote the post above, I received a delightful e-mail from Marcelline Delbecq:
Dear Mary Novik,
I just found the link to your site as I was checking people’s reaction to the visual I made for Le Louvre ad campaign (the image is everywhere in the metro this week, and people seem to love it!) I had no idea someone had used this portrait as a book cover nor as the representation of a novel’s character. It’s just great! I myself ran into Jeune fille en buste as I was wandering in the aile Sully while the museum was closed to the public. I was so attracted to this painting that I decided to use it, not knowing if the museum would like the idea. The director, Mr Loyrette, and his team loved the idea immediately. They also invited me to create a nocturnal event that took place in the aile Sully on October 3. I wrote 12 texts about different portraits, read aloud by young comedians from le Studio d’Asnieres, and by my dear friend the actress Elina Löwensohn. There was also a piano set played by musician Benoit Delbecq (my cousin) in one of the rooms, and a sound installation made by Foley-Artist Nicolas Becker. It was an incredible night: the public was transformed by the life insufflated to the museum that night. All this to say I would LOVE to read your book, please let me know where I can order it.
All my best,
As you can guess, a copy of Conceit was shortly on a plane crossing the Atlantic to Marcelline in Paris.