Eileen GRAY

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					Eileen GRAY                Ierland (1878-1976)

               Elegant, intelligent and independent. Eileen Gray's nonconformist
              and brilliant mind led her to a uniquely creative life at the turn of the
                century in Paris. Born to an aristocratic family in Ireland, she first
              studied at the Slade School for Fine Arts in London and then settled
                 in Paris in 1907 where she began a career that spanned seven
               decades. In Paris, she studied drawing, painting and, drawn to the
              austerity of the material, the techniques of lacquer. She also began
                                 to design furniture and interiors.

               Gray's first commission for interior design came in 1919, a project
               for which she developed her famous lacquered "block screens." In
               1922, she opened her own shop, the Galerie Jean Desert and that
              same year, exhibited work in Amsterdam where it drew the attention
              of Dutch architect, Jan Wils. The rational geometric forms of the De
              Stijl group in Holland impressed Gray deeply and her work began to
                convey a stronger sense of modernity and unconventional use of
                                       materials and forms.

              Gray now began to create unique furniture, "suited to our existence,
               in proportion to our rooms and in accordance with our aspirations
               and feelings." A brilliant formal play on the concept of asymmetry,
               Gray's Nonconformist chair displays her sense of irony, while her
                  famous side table—also asymmetrical—displays the rational
                   principles of modernism that increasingly defined her work.

                 After 1927, Gray worked primarily as an architect, designing a
              modernist house for herself for which she also created appropriately
              minimalist furniture. She also exhibited several architectural projects
                   at Le Corbusier's "Pavillion des Temps Nouveaux" in 1937.
              Following that exhibition, Gray's name faded quietly away until 1970
               when collector Robert Walker began buying up her designs. After
                30 years of obscurity, the importance of Gray's work was again
                  acknowledged. Today, she is recognized as one of the finest
              designers and architects of her day and pieces like the Eileen Gray
                          Table have become icons of modern design.

               Eileen Gray was of Scotch-Iran heritage. In 1902 she went to Paris
               she continued her in depth studies of design and Oriental Lacquer.
               Here she met Sugawara, the Japanese, who helped to perfect her
               use of lacquer. Only six years later did she dare to exhibit her work
                 in an interior design exhibit. She caught the attention of Jacque
                    Doucet, the couturiere, an art connaiseur and collector. He
                assigned her the task of furnishing and decorating his new home.
                For Doucet she designed two tables and a screen; the only work
                   she has ever signed and dated. Her first big assignment was
               furnishing "Madame Levy" (the famous milliner Suzanne Talbot) in
                Rue de Lota. In 1922 she started the "Jean Desert" Gallery in the
                fashionable Rue Faubourg St. Honoré, where she displayed and
                  sold her funiture, screen and lamps. Her "Bedroom Boudoir for
                Montecarlo" exhibited at the Decorator's Exhibit in 1923 aroused
                violent criticism from the Parisian press, but received great praise
                    from the De Stijl group. A long, illustrated article in a Dutch
                   magazine, a new exhibit and the approval of Gropius, Mallet-
              Stevens and Le Corbusier encouraged Gray to take the step toward
                  architecture. After four years of intensive study, advised by the
              theorist Jean Bodovici, at Roquebrune on the Mediterranean Coast,
               she built a house for herslf; spacious and practical, with many well
                                   thought out and witty details. Badovici's apartment in Paris and her
                                   own second home in Castellar on the Riviera bear witness to Gray's
                                                 intelligent and highly intelligent mind.

                                            "Bibendum" club chair, 1929. Re-edition Classicon

"Transat", 1927. Created for the "Montecarlo" divan with a chromium-plated tubular frame, 1929. Re-
 Villa E.1027. Re-edition Ecart                           edition Classicon

                                                       Eileen Gray, the rebel
                                                             By Elisabeth Vedrenne
                                    The misunderstanding Eileen Gray encountered on the part of her
                                     contemporaries was partly due to her exceptional character and
                                   partly to the fact that she was an unconventional figure for her time.
                                   Her creative talent and insatiable curiosity made her an outstanding
                                                        figure of the early 20th century.

                                                    INTRAMUROS, March 2001
                                                           No. 93

                                   Born in 1878 in the south of Ireland, Eileen Gray was endowed with
                                   all the right qualifies for an aristocratic young Victorian woman. Her
                                   insatiable curiosity, her strongly independent nature and above all,
                                   her non-conformity would make of her a creative talent marked by a
                                         rebellious nature and a free spirit. These were all qualities
                                    considered unsuitable in a woman during the first half of the 20th
                                     century and would ultimately make life difficult for her. While still
                                   very young, she decided to move to Paris in the years before World
                                       War 1, following in the footsteps of Americans like the famous
                                    Gertrude Stein, who was instrumental in making Picasso known.

                                        Eileen Gray studied art in London and Paris. Fascinated by
                                    materials, she discovered lacquer and fell in love with this magical
                                    substance, so difficult to work with and for which only perfection is
                                      good enough. She worked for years with the Japanese lacquer
                                   artist Sougawara, to master this sensual resinous varnish and, in a
                                      relatively short time, genius that she was, she transformed this
"Blocs" screen in black lacquer,        traditional Oriental material into something new and exotic,
  1922-25. Collection Robert       reinvented using pared-down sculptural lines inspired by African art
  Walker, Paris. Galerie Valois          and cubism, both then avant-garde artistic references.

                                   Her research into colour was astonishing. She invented a new blue
                                  (the colour most difficult to obtain) and experimented with lacquer in
                                    the most unexpected ways: scratched, powdered, encrusted with
                                     gold, silver and mother-of-pearl, never too shiny, always with a
                                   honeyed lustre. It is interesting to note Eileen Gray's fascination for
                                      this essentially rich material and how she rejuvenated it to the
                                       extent that she did and how, in complete contrast, during her
                                   "modernist period" she used industrial or very "ordinary" materials,
                                                      which nowadays would be called
                                  "poor". Some examples of these are Gray's topstitched canvas rug,
                                      the one in perforated felt, or the brush-carpet for outdoor use.

                                    In 1913, long before Jean Dunand's famous lacquered screens,
                                 Gray sold, among other treasures, the dark red "Le Destin" screen,
                                figurative on one side, abstract on the other, to Jacques Doucet, the
                                 couturier and collector. Her reputation spread throughout Paris like
"Black Board" rug, 1923-30. Re-                                    wildfire.
   edition Ecart International
                                In 1920, another of Eileen Gray's triumphs was the refurbishment of
                                   an apartment in the rue de Lota for Madame Lévy, where, for the
                                      first time, she realised the importance of creating a complete
                                   environment. She designed some very striking pieces of furniture
                                  for the apartment, including the "Pirogue" sofa, the "Blocs" screen
                                with its swivelling panels and the magnificent "Bibendum" armchairs
                                       with their revolutionary chromium-plated steel tube frames,

                                   The 1920s were also the period during which Gray designed rugs
                                   with abstract and geometrical motifs, re-edited in 1978 by Andrée
                                   Putman for Ecart International, thereby contributing to a revival of
                                                        interest in Gray's work.

                                  Gray became more and more interested in the theories of de Stijl
                                  (the Dutch artistic movement) and those of Le Corbusier, whose
  "Non-conformist" armchair, c. ideas she discovered, along with all the other new modernist ideas,
1926. Villa E.1027, Rocquebrune thanks to her new friend Jean Badovici, who edited the excellent
 Cap Martin. Galerie Peyroulet   Architecture Vivante (Living Architecture) magazine. She gave up
                                   working in lacquer for good. In the company of members of the
                                  Union des Artistes Modernes, such as Pierre Chareau and René
                                   Herbst, her work attracted the attention of the architects Walter
                                                 Gropius and Robert Mallet-Stevens.

                                    Following architectural studies and encouraged by Badovici who
                                   sensed exceptional talents in her, Eileen Gray began building her
                                   first villa, E.1027, in Roquebrune on the Côte d'Azur. Here she at
                                       last began to put into practice the concept of the connection
                                   between inside and outside, the house as a living organism, to be
                                                             treated as a whole.

                                  For E.1027, she designed the famous "Transat" chair, an articulated
 Outdoor rocking chair, Maison     chaise longue, which stole a march on that of Le Corbusier, various
 Tempe à Pailla. 1932. Galerie          "flying tables" and a whole range of folding, convertible and
           Peyroulet                   retractable furniture. She succeeded with a flair and ingenuity
                                  perhaps unique to women, in humanising the idea of the "standard",
                                  adding her own witty and playful attitude to this new modernist art of
                                  living, which curiously enough, became even more "rational", thanks
                            to her efforts.

   Long before Charlotte Perriand, Gray emptied space and seized
 every opportunity to create storage systems, She invented endless
infinitely simple space-saving systems: sliding walls, windows which
 appeared or disappeared as necessary, concealed cupboards, and
 hidden staircases. Everything folded, unfolded, swivelled, extended
 or slotted in somewhere. Everything moved. Her furniture was both
                    multifaceted and multifunctional.

 Later, Gray built a smaller villa for her own use, "Tempe a Pailla"
  (Time and Straw) near Menton, another house as architectural
   statement where she lived until the outbreak of World War II.

After World War 11, Eileen Gray sank into obscurity. She lived as a
recluse in the apartment in rue Bonaparte in Paris, which had been
 her main residence for 70 years. There she continued her design
 research, including celluloid, brick or cork screens and models for
  mass housing. She died in 1976, aged 98. Her dreams of mass-
production never came to fruition. Almost all her designs are one-off
 pieces. Was she defeated by her fiercely independent nature and
her misanthropic tendencies which some took for arrogance? Eileen
   Gray was certainly affected by the misogynistic attitudes of her
modernist architect contemporaries who considered her a dilettante.

  Despite Le Corbusier's considerable admiration for her, Gray was
    probably unable to make sufficient compromises and gradually
  became locked into an isolation she herself cultivated. Happily for
her, this admirable creative talent and "non -conformist" spirit which
   refused to bow to convention had its moment of glory during her
lifetime, thanks to the travelling exhibitions of her work in the United
   States in 1975. She did not live to see the one at MoMA in New
                             York in 1980.

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