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Eileen Gray


Biography

Irish furniture designer and architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976) is considered a key figure in 20th century design for her influence in the Modernist movement. Born into a well-to-do family, Gray visited a number of different countries in her youth, including Italy, Switzerland and, above all, France, and particularly Paris during the 1900 World’s Fair. She then moved to London, where she was one of the first female pupils to be admitted to Slade School of Fine Arts (1901), before continuing her studies in Paris (1902-1905).
Back in London, Gray worked for a furniture workshop in Soho. Dissatisfied with her designs, she focused on lacquering furniture, a discipline she perfected in Paris, working with the great Japanese master Sugawara for four years. She moved permanently to Paris (1907) and began applying her painting techniques to flat surfaces. She did not meet with great success at this early stage in her career, though some of her lacquers were purchased and exhibited (by tailor Jacques Doucet, for instance) and the British edition of Vogue published an article on her (August 1917).
Her first major commission came in 1919, designing furniture for Madame Mathieu-Levy in Rue de Lota, where she “designed every item in the interior, including the wallpaper, lamps, furniture and carpets, choosing particularly rigorous, sculptural forms” (McHardy). Famous items of furniture include the Bibendum armchair and the spectacular Pirogue sofa. Encouraged by these significant results, in 1922 she opened “Jean Désert” gallery, whose wealthy clients appreciated and exhibited her work (Salons d’automne 1922-’23; XVI Salon des Artistes decorateurs).
Her encounter with Romanian architect Jean Badovici convinced Gray to work in architecture.
The results included the famous E.1027 home in Roquebrune, Cap Martin (1929) and the apartment in Rue Chateabriand (1931) as well as her own home, Tempe à Pailla, in Castellar (1934): projects testifying to “Gray’s extraordinary architectural sensibility, her taste for detail and, above all, her great practical sense”.
Many of her later projects were not built, though her “Holiday Centre” was exhibited by Le Corbusier at the 1937 Expo in Paris.
Full international recognition of Gray’s work came late: in 1968, when the designer had retired far away from the architecture and design establishment, an article by critic Joseph Rykwert published in Domus reassessed her importance. A number of exhibitions followed, and production of the Bibendum armchair and E.1027 round table resumed; Gray’s designs are now considered valuable items of 20th-century design.

Eileen Gray selected works

- Sedia Bonaparte, 1935
- Casa Tempe à Pailla, Castella (Francia), 1934
- Appartamento in rue Chateabriand, Parigi (Francia), 1931
- Casa E.1027, Roquebrune, Cap Martin (Francia), 1929
- Tavolino Double X, 1929
- Seggiolino da bar n° 1 e n° 2, 1928
- Sedia Aixia, 1928
- Sedie Roquebrune, 1927
- Specchio Castellar, 1927
- Lampada a muro Pailla, 1927
- Tavolino Petite Coiffeuse, 1926
- Tavolino E.1027 e poltrona Transat, 1924
- Divano Lota, 1924
- Tavolino De Stijl, 1922
- Poltrona Bibendum e Pirogue sofa, 1921
- Arredamento in rue de Lota per madame Mathieu-Levy, 1919
- Tavolo laccato, 1915

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