Book I: “Old Masters”

Guillermo Coll | Old Masters

I discovered the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) just as usual, by chance (I was having a look in a bookshop, and his book was there on a bookshelf); eager to read but with no preconceived idea. Just from the beginning his style so particular, so repetitive and sort of hypnotic (he almost never uses full-stop) caught me; it is so really difficult to get used to it.

Reading Bernhard half-heartedly paying no attention to the text can be quite maddening. He easily creates a bunch of memorable characters such as the Prince Saurau (Gargoyles) or the painter Strauch (Frost), we will be referring to them in some other entries. On the other hand, all references to Art or more particularly to painting are a constant in his books. The hero of the work Old Masters, a novel published in 1985, is Reger, a well-known musicologist who, for thirty-six years and at alternating days goes to Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna just to stay in a settee in the so-called Bordone Room and to look carefully at the portrait by Tintoretto: L’uomo dalla barba bianca. Reger’s obsession is an excuse for Bernhard to focus on the pursuit of perfection in Art, so futile and unnecessary, and on the fact that if we are in front of a blank canvas, these Old Masters, we have always taken as benchmarks, cannot really help us.

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