La donna che legge
« If you were to open a text about the history of literature today, you should find in it the name of a new classic author: Coco Chanel. Chanel does not write using paper and ink (except as a pastime), but with fabric, forms, colours. Yet this does not prevent her from being regarded as having the authority of a writer of the Grand Siècle, as elegant as Racine, as Jansenist as Pascal (whom she quotes), as philosophical as La Rochefoucauld (whom she imitates as she also produces aphorisms), as sensitive as Madame de Sévigné… »
Roland Barthes wrote these words in 1967, in a now famous article placing Gabrielle Chanel’s work within the great library of metaphors in the history of classic authors.
Inspired by these words of Roland Barthes, this new episode of CULTURE CHANEL has been created for Venice, the city of inspiration for Gabrielle Chanel.
A solitary soul, Gabrielle Chanel loved to read.
Books gave direction to her life, and as instruments of dreams, prayers, poetic and artistic journeys and of amorous desires, they gave her a measure of time. In her youth, each character of a novel became the mirror of a dreamt life; the title of each book challenged her intimate thoughts. Reading exalted her conquering spirit.
While the psalms at the orphanage in the Cistercian abbey of Aubazine had painfully and rather naively pointed her the way, later on it was the poets that introduced her to the secrets of the invisible.
But above all, each author revealed to her how a work might be constructed, that way of engraving a vision of the word in the course of time. Each author also showed her the density of work to be done to make a novel out of her own life.
Throughout her lifetime, books were what remained closest to her. Still today, on the walls of her famous apartment in rue Cambon in Paris, the large calm landscapes of her library and those of the Coromandel screens much busier with images (yet also written) coexist side by side. Here, the smell of polished leather bindings still mixes with the fragrance of her favourite perfume, N° 5.
Shamelessly, and with the feeling of stealing someone else’s intimate moments, my gaze turned to the titles of the books, their authors, their narratives. By slipping in between the eyes of “the woman who reads” and what she read, I realized how the world of these books had provided answers to Gabrielle Chanel’s creative intuitions, and how much of her life (she had always refused to write it down) was written up there on these shelves laden with beliefs, doubts, desires, repentances, ambitions, angers, escapes..., in this apartment with its old-gold walls like the edges of old missals at the Aubazine abbey or the Venetian objects that she was so fond of.
This library which the public will discover in Venice brings together a selection of authors that passed through Gabrielle Chanel’s life, and also the books of artists she encountered, admired, often loved, and with whom she shared a perspective on the history of modernity.
The dedications that accompany some of these works are as much biographical statements about the great couturière as they are artistic, and henceforth, historical testimonies.
Art objects from Gabrielle Chanel’s collection, which still occupy the apartment in rue Cambon in Paris, will be exhibited for the first time to the public, whereas paintings, drawings and manuscripts by the artists that enchanted the great couturière’s life will heighten the intimacy of this exhibition, “The woman who reads”.