Elstir, the character
Elstir is the painter of the novel. He belongs to the Impressionist movement. He strives not to show things as he knows they are “[…] but according to these optical illusions of which our first vision is made”.
“The young girls in flowers” of Balbec used to frequent Elstir’s studio and the Narrator will do everything to be introduced to Albertine by the painter.
When I arrived at Elstir’s, a few minutes later, my first impression was that Mlle. Simonet was not in the studio. There was certainly a girl sitting there in a silk frock bareheaded, but one whose marvelous hair, whose nose, meant nothing to me, in whom I did not recognize the human entity that I had formed out of a young cyclist strolling past, in a polo–cap, between myself and the sea. It was Albertine, nevertheless.Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
From literature to design
Towards a rocking chair
Elstir’s studio description is a very beautiful scene of the novel.
And Elstir’s studio appeared to me as the laboratory of a sort of new creation of the world in which, from the chaos that is all the things we see, he had extracted, by painting them on various rectangles of canvas that were hung everywhere about the room, here a wave of the sea crushing angrily on the sand its lilac foam, there a young man in a suit of white linen, leaning upon the rail of a vessel.Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
As Jean-Yves Tadié, the great Proustian scholar, said : “Elstir studio is, like the studio of Proust, carpeted with these sketches, traces of his life and of his thinking.”
The rocking-chair dates from the early XIXth century, popularized by Michael Thonet. It was commonplace in the homes of Shakers, an American religious sect, because, as they said, its rocking helped to guide their eyes toward heaven. Anthony Guerrée wanted to transform Elstir into a rocking-chair to underline the importance of movement and time for the Impressionists.