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 International. 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.