Les mouchoirs de Proust

Year: 2014

Author: Nicole Morello 1953

Artist: Nicole Morello 1953

Nicole Morello, Les mouchoirs de Proust (2014)

Nicole Morello’s books are, without exception, book creations that take on a special form. Morello (Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1953) originally studied the history of art at the Paris VI University and also trained as an interpreter and translator (1973-1977). In 1978 she moved to Düsseldorf, the place where all her book objects have been conceived. These days books have, for Morello, become an integral part of theatrical productions in which both the actors and the audience are able to engineer change. In the case of her Marcel Proustproject, she worked towards establishing Community Artwork (‘Gemeinschaftsarbeit’) with projection, video, recital and dance where, throughout, the rustling sound of paper can be heard.

About Antartica

Around the turn of the century Morello started creating concertina fold books. Most of Morello’s objects d’art are one-off projects but in the case of one such publication, Save Antarctica (1998), some thirty were made. Her books are hand-painted, the medium being gouache. With Save Antarctica each copy differed slightly from the next one. The thick paper pages portray dozens of cut-out penguins against an ice-landscape background. The names of scientific research stations in Antarctica have been pasted onto the gouache with Letraset type letters. Similar books developed around such themes as the ‘camel’ and the ‘flamingo’.

Marcel Proust

A later publication, also involving a print run of thirty, comprises a box of cotton handkerchiefs. They are part of the Marcel Proust-edition, Les mouchoirs de Proust (2014). Each copy contains a printed booklet and four unique hand-embroidered handkerchiefs alluding to the famous opening line of Remembrance of things past: ‘For a long time I used to go to bed early’ (‘Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure’). The four handkerchiefs consecutively present the words ‘Longtemps’, ‘je m’essuie’, ‘couché’ and ‘de bonheur’. In the case of Proust it was common to go to bed early, in the case of Morello it is all about a different ritual: ‘For a long time, I dried myself, lying down, happy’ (‘Longtemps, je m’essuie, couché, de bonheur’). In French Morello’s sentence is homophonic with that of Proust: it sounds the same but means something different and, depending upon where the comma is placed, there are different possible readings too.


The 120 handkerchiefs included in this edition come from all over the place, they were bought at a market or, for instance, received from friends. While doing such things as travelling somewhere by train or sitting in the garden Morello embroidered the words onto the handkerchiefs. Therefore they each have a different history (one that is unknown to the reader) but they each remind the artist of a different location in much the same way that the protagonist of Remembrance… recalls his youth and how he then experienced the world.

The handkerchiefs are packed in a box that is covered with Italian, florally decorated Varese paper. Hidden beneath that is a printed booklet, designed by Nora Gummert-Hauser (1959), set in Univers typeface and digitally printed at the Design Typografie und Editorial Design department at the Hochschule Niederrhein in Krefeld. Les mouchoirs de Proust is no ordinary reading object; the reader needs to use both hands to unpack the box and unravel the text.

A certain time, but what is the tense?

In the booklet, the simple yet mysterious opening sentence of Proust’s novel is explicated. The sentence alludes to a certain time, but what is the tense? The homophone variant thought up by Morello in the middle of the night, while lying in bed, parallels Proust who not only talks in the opening sentence of going to bed but who wrote the whole novel in bed. Morello found the many envelopes and handwritten cards in the novel rather notable because of the wrongly spelt or incorrectly explained words and the great divergence between what can be uttered and what can be understood.

The homophone sentence is about a room that Proust remembers, the only room that he was allowed to lock and where four solitary activities occurred involving: ‘la lecture, la rêverie, les larmes et la volopté’, in other words: reading, dreaming, crying and masturbating. The handkerchiefs have different functions.

Bibliographical description

Description: Les mouchoirs de Proust / Nicole Morello. - [Düsseldorf] : [Nicole Morello], 2014. - 4 zakdoeken, in rood geborduurd met teksten ; 27 cm

Printer: Design Typografie und Editorial Design, Hochschule Niederrhein (Krefeld)

Typeface: Schrift Univers

Edition: 30 numbered and signed copies

This copy: Nr. 03/30

Note: In a handkerchief box

Shelfmark: KW Koopm P 10039


  • Paul van Capelleveen, 'Nicole Morello', in: Artists & others. The imaginative French book in the 21st century. Koopman Collection, National Library of the Netherlands. Nijmegen, Vantilt Publishers, 2016, p. 192-193.
  • 'Morello' [website]