PROUST IN THE TIME OF DESIGN
Write / Design
A few months ago, designer Anthony Guerrée embarked on a new adventure designing and making chairs inspired by the characters of In Search of Lost Time, the monumental work by writer Marcel Proust. After publishing his book Les Assises du temps perdu (Bouclard Editions) – meaning “Seats of lost time” – , his work is exhibited on the website of the Atelier Jespers Gallery www.atelierjespers.com.
Photographer: Roland Tisserand
One work, so many stories
Anthony Guerrée is a furniture designer and lover of literature. In 2013, while working for Studio Andrée Putman, he started reading the 7 volumes of In Search of Lost Time with his notebook and sketches in hand. A mountain of paper – 2400 pages – to which he devoted 6 months of his life. “Reading this work was a bit like an opera by Wagner, with moments of wonder and others that put me to sleep. But above all, I read Proust as if I was dreaming,” he says, “and I immediately wanted to keep a record of it. One of the main interests in Proust’s writing is the quantity of descriptions of interiors and furniture. Proust understood the evocative power of the decorative arts and used them to give his characters even more depth. So why not bring them to life? Why not imagine what these chairs, armchairs and other seats described or evoked in In Search of Lost Time would look like? And to go even further, why not try to associate each main character with an original piece of furniture, according to the role he plays?”
Seats of lost time
Of the more than 1500 characters in Proust’s work, Anthony Guerrée has chosen 10 of them and he associates a particular chair to each one. “A chair is the piece of furniture that says the most about us: first of all, its aesthetics, but also its physical posture, which, depending on its inclination or height, explains a range of attitudes and social representations. These chairs are the result of an attempt to freeze some features of a fictional character to turn them into allegories or incarnations.” Albertine, symbol of fantasy and pure object of desire appearing from the first pages of A l’ombre des jeunes filles en pleurs (Within a Budding Grove), inspired a model influenced by Pomare chairs, whose high-backed seat symbolizes the desire for love and whose resonance with the erotic saga “Emmanuelle” adds to its lightness. Sidonie de Verdurin, who called the shots in the salons of the haute-bourgeoise inspired the designer to create a folding screen chair marking the sensual relationship of the socialite with her furniture. “She invited her guests to come and feel the bronze armrests of her chair,” smiles Anthony Guerrée. Monsieur Vinteuil, a modest piano teacher revealed as a fine composer, stirred the imagination of the designer who built a piano bench whose structure in brushed oak with five blades evokes the musical score…
The art of savoir-faire
After these designs, Anthony Guerrée continued his seating story in 2020 and launched the production of a new collection. Each piece was made by Racines Ateliers, a French cabinetmaker, for a total of 8 unique pieces. An exception to the rule, the Albertine chair is made in Scotland, in the Orkney Islands, by The Orkney Furniture Maker, whose techniques of braiding oat straw and linen rope are unique. Odette, the bistro seat model, was entrusted to the Maison Drucker, a world specialist in rattan. “What could be more natural to pay homage to this Parisian libertine appearing in Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way), than a curved chair symbolizing grace, made from rattan, a material also associated with Parisian terraces and the gaiety of Paris?” the designer explained. “The floral form and the use of plant materials for the design of the Odette chair are a reference to the “catelya” of the character in La Recherche that Swann “loved to rearrange”. For Swann and Odette, “to make catelya”, was another way to say ‘make love.’”
For Anthony Guerrée, this exploration of design and literature transformed him into a true designer. “Just as in In Search of Lost Time, this great movement towards a vocation, where at the end of the book the narrator begins to write the book that the reader has just finished, I wanted to design and add my signature to these chairs and be their official ‘author.’ I feel that this book has allowed me to take the leap.” In 2020, after having accompanied the designer Christophe Delcourt for the last five years, Anthony Guerrée opened his own studio.