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The Unknown Masterpiece Paperback – October 22, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Book Jungle (October 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1438504489
  • ISBN-13: 978-1438504483
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.6 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,586,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“The greatest novelist of the nineteenth century and perhaps of all time.” —The New York Times

“The hero of The Unknown Masterpiece, Frenhofer, is one of Balzac’s archetypal artists. . .” —TheWashington Post --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Balzac is a genius!
Phillip J Park
Egging on our ego, building ourselves and our work or our talent up to the point the it transcends the ability of humans and must have be a work of pure divinity.
J. Schell
It speaks of the heart of darkness that is modern art.
Futoshi J. Tomori

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Futoshi J. Tomori on July 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is such a strange short story by Balzac. The premise is simple: An aging Parisian artist is obsessed over a single painting which he has been working on for years. When his friends finally get to see the work, they see nothing. This is the riddle of the story: what's in the painting? Also, what is this story about? Is it a parable of art or beauty or obsession? It's interesting painters and artists were taken by this story. It speaks of the heart of darkness that is modern art. Kudos for NYRB on this new translation by Richard Howard. The question remains whether we'll be seeing new or revised translations of Balzac's other works.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
It's amazing that the author was able to create an essay on 20th century abstract art in 1834. But this story is much more than that. It is a commentary on the parallels between art and human psychology, and the unreality of both... also, a character study, a mystery, an allegorical tale... all within 40 pages. In keeping with its theme, The Unknown Masterpiece is, on the other hand, none of those things. In keeping with its title... at least in this country.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Schell on August 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
Who among us doesn't have their own 'great unfinished work?' How many of us have wanted to do something that was greater than ourselves? How many of us want to put something out there not only into the current public forum, but into the historical forum as well? Something, perhaps a work of art not only for the 'now,' but for posterity, too?

I do. And certainly most of my friends, if they're being honest, do, too. It stands to reason that although the idea and the drive may be there, most will never accomplish the masterpiece that eludes them.

And although we try, what we produce is often so devilishly poor in quality that, sickened, we tear it up, or painted over it, or erase the recording vowing to never again attempt something so foolish. Yet, a few days pass, and there we are, attempting. Tempting.

So we lie. We lie to ourselves and we lie to our friends. We convince everyone that what we have in store is beyond measure. Beyond perfect. Not just life changing, but culture changing. And if this continues long enough, we tend to believe it. Egging on our ego, building ourselves and our work or our talent up to the point the it transcends the ability of humans and must have be a work of pure divinity. Creating our own legend. Perpetuating our own myth.

But alas, our ability is simply human. And as a result, the work we produce, while perhaps divine in inspiration, is always human in ability. And as it is human, it is, as we are, fallible.

This book could be about art. It could be about the fear of opening ourselves up to the judgment of others. I think it is about being human.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
At first glance "The Unknown Masterpiece" and "Gambarra" are dissimilar tales about a painter and a composer. Yet they share in common the main protagonist's struggle to make a masterpiece; the finest painting and opera ever conceived. Unfortunately in "The Unknown Masterpiece" the painter Frenhofer is so dissatisfied with his work that he paints it anew, and it is seen by his friends, with disastrous consequences for all. In "Gambarra" the composer of the same name struggles to finish an opera on the early history of Islam, which he promises will be more glorious than any by Mozart. Such lofty ambitions remain unrealized, leaving the composer impoverished. Without question two of the greatest tales ever written by Balzac, influencing generations of painters, writers and other artists.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on May 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
Brilliantly translated by Richard Howard, these two unknown tales by the master novelist, Balzac, concern the process and wonder of creation in both art and music. If you've read any of the great works of fiction---"Lost Illusions", "Père Goriot", "Cousin Bette", "Eugenie Grandet" or even "Colonel Chabert"---you will find these stories thin and pale, not up to the magnificent standard set by the others. That is, if you expect to find a similar direction. Balzac had set himself an immense task. That was to portray the whole of French life in his times in a series of novels and stories. "The Unknown Masterpiece", the first of two stories in this book, concerns art. Though there is a slight, rather weird, plot with three characters, and it smacks more than a little of Andersen's story "The Emperor's New Clothes", I felt that Balzac wrote it as a showcase for his opinions on art. Real artists, `Mabuse" (the pseudonym of a Flemish artist) and Nicolas Poussin, appear on the pages, but there are long lectures on the nature, power, and importance of art. It seems this story influenced Picasso many decades later, but in my opinion it will not appeal much to most modern readers. If you are interested to read Balzac's opinions about art, or are a person who thinks about the process of creativity, I admit that this will be a five star story for you.

The second tale, Gambara, concerns a humble Italian musician living in Paris. "My music's goal is to offer a representation of the life of nations conceived from the loftiest perspective," he says as he plans his great opera on the life of Muhammad. (If he had done this today, somebody would probably have killed him.) He talks learnedly, but his music is a jumble of noise unfathomable to listeners.
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