François Mauriac admired his friend Jacques-Émile Blanche's talent to "create around him an atmosphere that was that of his time and that his paintings have fixed. [...] Nothing can prevent us from having recourse to him, who fixed the illustrious and charming faces of the end of the past century and the first half of this one, the faces, but also the landscapes, the beaches and the Norman gardens, the houses that the war destroyed. He is a painter who has memories to revive, a story to tell.”
This story is that of a world that no longer exists, a "lost time" that intersects with Proust's work, accompanies it, even illustrates it in part—even if it does not equal it. In 1919, Proust signed the preface to Blanche's essay, De David à Degas, which was dedicated "to Marcel Proust, in memory of the Auteuil of his childhood and my youth, and as a tribute of admiration for the author of « Du côté de chez Swann ». In this text, he defends the work of his painter friend against the image of a worldly artist that will follow Blanche through time. Proust, who in his early writings claimed to be a portrait painter, recalls that the models Blanche painted were, at the time, the paintings of friends "whose merit he was almost the only one to celebrate", and goes so far as to see in his comrade a clairvoyant artist who "possessed in him, like all men assured of the future, this perspective of time where one must know how to place oneself to look at the works.”
The Belle Époque was short-lived for realist portraitists like Blanche. Photography became very popular and condemned them.” Is it only photography that will preserve the character and physiognomy of these officials of the Great War?" wonders Blanche, who divided his life between Paris and Normandy. “One day, the problem of imitation will have to be dealt with in depth; the expression of these faces is, after all, the most noble goal of the painter, so why do young people hand over to the photographer?” And the painter added: "Today art begins at the "deformation", and the painter confuses it with the "interpretation" which is, indeed, the very Art. But... let us distinguish!”
The end of this era at the start of World War I was also the end of an artistic genre, that of the realistic portrait. Blanche's paintings were also the last fires of the ""resembling portrait,” the art of the Sargents and Whistlers, the Boldinis and the Lászlós. Blanche was not in painting what Proust was in literature, but his painted work often had the traits of Proustian pictures. Such is the case with this portrait of Henri Bergson. In In Search of Lost Time, Proust explores "the immense edifice of memory" of which Bergson had made the most advanced philosophical analysis of his time, with Matière et mémoire (1896). Like Bergson, Proust felt that the past would never be constituted if it did not coexist with the present of which it is the past—one of the keys to understanding the deep meaning of the chrononym of the Belle Époque.
For these two cousins (by marriage), who did not reach the same conclusions, there is no perception that is not linked to a memory. About this portrait painted in several versions of studies, Jacque-Émile Blanche says: "It is therefore necessary, of this Bergson, with the five studies (including the head that was pushed during the laborious sessions in Paris), we must therefore make an image for his followers, something that is what we imagine Bergson to be. Spend the morning bowing the whole body, bowing the head in the thinker's bow (and that redness, that "congestion" of the philosopher that this unfortunate man is afflicted with: transform all that. Insist on the Veronese green of the background).”