Nabokov, landscapist

by Nandia Foteini Vlachou



Claude Lorrain, Sunrise (detail), possibly 1646–47, oil on canvas, 102.9 x 134 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


“By a paradox of pictorial thought, the average lowland North-American countryside had at first seemed to me something I accepted with a shock of amused recognition because of those painted oilcloths which were imported from America in the old days to be hung above washstands in Central-European nurseries, and which fascinated a drowsy child at bed time with the rustic green views they depicted – opaque curly trees, a barn, cattle, a brook, the dull white of vague orchards in bloom, and perhaps a stone fence or hills of greenish gouache. But gradually the models of those elementary rusticities became stranger and stranger to the eye, the nearer I came to know them. Beyond the tilled plain, beyond the toy roofs, there would be a slow suffusion of inutile loveliness, a low sun in a platinum haze with a warm, peeled-peach tinge pervading the upper edge of a two-dimensional, dove-gray cloud fusing with the distant amorous mist. There might be a line of spaced trees silhouetted against the horizon, and hot still noons above a wilderness of clover, and Claude Lorrain clouds inscribed remotely into misty azure with only their cumulus part conspicuous against the neutral swoon of the background. Or again, it might be a stern El Greco horizon, pregnant with inky rain, and a passing glimpse of some mummy-necked farmer, and all around alternating strips of quick-silverish water and harsh green corn, the whole arrangement opening like a fan, somewhere in Kansas.”

View of Toledo

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), View of Toledo (detail), ca. 1598–99, oil on canvas, 121.3 x 108.6 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


* From the 2006 Penguin Red Classic edition of Lolita (pp. 171-172).


PS. And the “mummy-necked farmer”.


Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930, oil on beaver board, 78 x 65.3 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago.