The death of Dmitri Nabokov at Vevey on 22nd February after a series of illnesses deprives us of a rather wonderful author in his own right. Back in 2003, I had contacted him to enquire about the possibility of his (re-)constructing his father`s book on Butterflies in Art from the cards on which he jotted down his notes. His reply to someone who had written on Vladimir only en passant had been seriously considered, and I received the following on Tuesday 11 March 2003:
"I welcome your interest in my father`s planned volume on butterflies in art.
Sadly, that project and another that was close to his heart - the butterflies of Europe - were nipped in the bud by the bad faith of publishers. A certain amount of material does exist, but in an embryonic state. I shall have to scour my archive from this point of view. I recently emerged from a long hospital stay, and am already buried under a pile of projects. I certainly do consider the enterprise desirable, but would need a little time to determine if what little exists is sufficient for an edition."
Nothing further was heard by me, but he was to write in his memoir, `On Revisiting Father`s
Room` a propos Fra Beato Angelica`s L`Annunziazione -
"VN`s meticulous, minute hand about the angel`s stylized rainbow wings: "A recollection of Iphiclides podalirius with a slight dash of Papilio machaon and perhaps s hint of the day-flying moth Panaxia quadripunctaria. The 2 blackish stripes of each `wing` correspond to the pattern of I. podalirius in the natural position of rest - then an asterisk joined by a line to another in the vertical margin - "see Portmann, Animal Forms, p.110, NY 1967."
DM`s conclusion to that suggests how much has been missed by his father`s later fictional diversions from concluding the volume, and undertaking the always exhausting fight with the publishers so the script could see the light of day:
"For years he had longed to do that never-to-be book on butterflies in art. Discovering a perfect Vanessa atalanta concealed in a Brueghel bush thrilled him almost as much as spotting a rare mutant on the wing."