The Proust Questionnaire: Takao Tanabe

The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.


Photograph of Takao Tanabe by Chick Rice © 2003

Born the son of a commercial fisherman, Takao Tanabe has become one of Canada’s most important painters and printmakers, known primarily for his contemplative light-filled landscapes.

Interned with his family during the Second World War, Tanabe began studying art in 1946, first at the Winnipeg School of Art, then in Banff, New York, London and Tokyo. He later developed a close association with the Banff School of Fine Arts as both a teacher and arts advocate.

During a career that has spanned nearly 65 years, Tanabe’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions around the world. His prints and paintings can be found in numerous private and public collections, including the National Gallery of Canada. He lives and works on Vancouver Island.


Your earliest memory of art:

None, until I was in Year 2 of art school.

When you knew this would become your vocation:

In 1949. When I graduated from the Winnipeg School of Art, my mother said, “Now get a job.” I replied, “I’ve decided to become an artist, instead of a sign-painter.”

Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):


Favourite pastime (other than art):

Fishing. Travel—many more countries to see.

Favourite artist:

Was Piero della Francesca. Now maybe Gustave Klimt or Francis Bacon.

Favourite writer and musician/composer:

Jane Austen. Mozart and Kurt Weill. In my old age, I love opera.

Favourite colour, flower and bird:

Black. Snowdrop. Hummingbird.

Favourite food and drink:

Fresh crab. Scotch—single-malt, preferably.

Favourite smell and sound:

Fresh air and absolute silence.

Favourite environment or landscape:

Tidal beach. Dark clouds.

Favourite weather or season:

Heavy fog. Early winter.

Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:

I wish . . . 

Best quality:

Fairly patient.             

Worst flaw:

Too fussy.

Ideal place to live:

Right where I am now.

One wish:

To die without pain, and still know who I am. 

Aspirations before you die:

To make a painting with no flaws.

To me art is: 

Unfathomable. Why do we make images?


Click here to view works by Takao Tanabe housed in the National Gallery of Canada's permanent collection.

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