Home > 1920, 20th Century, Classics, French Literature, Painting, Proust, Marcel > A painting which portrays Charles Swann

A painting which portrays Charles Swann

December 11, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

A la Recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust. (In Search of Lost Time)

When I visited the Musée Carnavalet in Paris, I stumbled upon a painting that reminded me of Odette Swann. This time, when I visited the exhibition Les Impressionistes et la mode, I saw the painting Le Cercle de la rue Royale by Tissot.


When I looked at the caption, it listed the men painted there and I saw that Charles Haas was the last one on the right. I thought: He’s the one Proust based Charles Swann upon and I noted down the reference of the painting. Like Haas, Swann was a member of the Cercle de la Rue Royale and of the Jockey Club.

I always thought that scholars had recouped information spread throughout In Search of Lost Time and thus deducted that Charles Haas was the model for Charles Swann. Therefore I was quite surprised when I came home, resumed reading The Captive and read about Swann’s death. Proust indulges into self-congratulation as he muses over the immortality the first volume of In Search of Lost Time will grant to Charles Haas/Swann:

Et pourtant, cher Charles Swann, que j’ai connu quand j’étais encore si jeune et vous près du tombeau, c’est parce que celui que vous deviez considérer comme un petit imbécile a fait de vous le héros d’un de ses romans, qu’on recommence à parler de vous et que peut-être vous vivrez ». Si dans le tableau de Tissot représentant le balcon du Cercle de la rue Royale, où vous êtes entre Galliffet, Edmond de Polignac et Saint-Maurice, on parle tant de vous, c’est parce qu’on voit qu’il y a quelques traits de vous dans le personnage de Swann. And yet, my dear Charles——, whom I used to know when I was still so young and you were nearing your grave, it is because he whom you must have regarded as a little fool has made you the hero of one of his volumes that people are beginning to speak of you again and that your name will perhaps live. If in Tissot’s picture representing the balcony of the Rue Royale club, where you figure with Galliffet, Edmond Polignac and Saint-Maurice, people are always drawing attention to yourself, it is because they know that there are some traces of you in the character of Swann.

He was quite smug, wasn’t he? Or confident in his gift as a writer, which is not the image the Narrator gives about his writing abilites. The reference to the painting by Tissot leaves no doubt: Charles Haas and Charles Swann are one unique person.

More importantly, in this passage, the Narrator is dropping the masks and writes as Marcel Proust and In Search of Lost Time sound like his memoirs. So, look at the picture, the man on the right with a hat is Charles Haas/Swann.

PS: Here is the list of the men portrayed on this painting, from left to right. (courtesy of Wikipedia)


A little research on Wikipedia teaches you that Edmond de Polignac is supposedly the one who introduced Charles Haas to Marcel Proust. Gaston de Galliffet inspired the Général de Froberville, involved in the Dreyfus Affair. These men were used to spending time at the Comtesse Greffuhle, who inspired the Duchesse de Guermantes.

  1. December 11, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Wow, thanks. I never really understood that passage.


    • December 11, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      I imagined this would interest you. I was surprised to read this passage in La Prisonnière.


  2. December 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Exciting to find this on your Paris trip!


    • December 11, 2012 at 10:09 pm

      Hello, thanks for visiting and commenting.

      Yes, it was exciting. It’s always great when your reading life meets with your real life.
      In this exhibition, they also put chairs along the wall with names of the famous people of the high society of the time. One had Marcel Proust’s tag.


  3. December 11, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Not overly self-indulgent, though: he does add “peut-etre”…
    Incidentally, here’s my Dutch translation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4ywKwT_aaE


    • December 11, 2012 at 10:11 pm


      Thanks for visiting my blog and for commenting.
      You’re right, he says peut-être. It’s very rare that he sounds smug like this. This passage sounds like he slipped and forgot to write as Marcel, the Narrator.


  4. December 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.


    • December 11, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      You’re welcome; I thought other lit lovers could enjoy this too.


  5. December 11, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Is he the one standing in the doorway wearing the top hat?


    • December 11, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      Reread the passage and I see that it is the one with the hat. You have to love the lounger


      • December 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm

        Sure the lounger seems comfortable


      • December 17, 2012 at 12:28 am

        I have one of the Penguin-published Prousts with that painting on the front, and I’ve always loved the lounger. He looks like a man who, if you peeled him a grape, would discover that he was too languid to actually eat it.


        • December 17, 2012 at 10:14 pm


          Thanks for visiting my blog.
          Swann isn’t the guy on the lounger, he’s the one on the right with a hat. I think the one on the lounger is Edmond de Polignac.


    • December 11, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      Yes.The actor Eric Ruf plays Swann in the TV version of In Search of Lost Time directed by Nina Companeez. After seeing that painting, I think it was a good choice.


  6. December 16, 2012 at 10:45 am

    My book Paintings in Proust by Karpeles confirms that Proust actually mentions this painting in his book, so its fascinating to read your article here which provids more information.


  7. July 7, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Not the duchess but the Princess


    • July 7, 2018 at 11:53 am

      No, definitely the Duchess. Look it up on Internet.


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