A CELEBRATION OF IRELANDS MODERNIST QUEEN – EILEEN GRAY
A Celebration of Eileen Gray
To mark the national feast day and celebration of all things Irish – St Patricks Day, which falls on the 17th of March each year we’re proud to present a blog highlighting the achivements of one of Ireland’s most influential & visionary designers – Eileen Gray.
Eileen Gray (image courtesy of The Irish Times)
Eileen Gray was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, Ireland on the 9th August 1878.From a wealthy Anglo Irish family she grew up in Ireland and London. Her parents separated and her mother became, through family inheritance of title the 19th Baroness Gray in 1895. Eileen Gray studied painting in London and on her first visit to Paris attended an Art Fair that celebrated the richness of Art Nouveau. Shortly after wards she moved to Paris and travelled between there and London & Ireland for several years.
Travels & Learning In London she made a discovery that was to profoundly affect her future life – encountering for the first time laquerwork – which was popular at the time she set about learning and experimenting with the technique. In 1906 she met, in Paris, Seizo Sugawara, a Japanese lacquer expert. In 1913 she exhibited lacquer for the first time and was celebrated for her success with the medium.
After the war Gray received her first big commission; designing an apartment for a wealthy boutique owner.The success of this re-design prompted her name to become recognised, more commissions followed, a shop was opened and her furniture became steadily better known. Her approach to design- creating clean, uncluttered shapes and innovative use of materials marked her as a rare talent. Financially independent she rode the wave of modernism and her famous Bibendium chair became much admired.
Eileen Gray Screen (image courtesy of The Irish Times)
Professional Recognition Grays personal life was complex, her partners included women & men and it was her relationship with Romanian Architect Jean Badovici that led her to design, with Badovici, her first building. Grays design of the E1027 House in the South of France remains one of her most career defining designs. In the design of the building she got to fully express her love of sleek modern lines and also got to experiment with furniture created for the space. Her celebrated (and much copied) E1027 table is from this period. During world war two Gray moved away from the coast of France and in the early 1930’s designed a new home ‘Tempe à Pailla’ which came to further typify her expertise with shape, line and pared back decoration. Her furniture continued to develop and she used tublar steel, glass & lacquer to great effect. Her new look was ahead of its time and before Le Corbusier who is commonly credited with being one of the forefathers of modernism.
Gray continued to design houses & products such as rugs, chairs, sofas and tables. Gray returned to Paris and worked until the end of her life. Largely forgotten by the design industry her re-emergence was marked by a magazine article which prompted a discussion with Aram the design company who began to issue licenced editions of her most iconic furniture pieces. From this came an exhibition in London and her career ended she became better known. She died in her apartment n Paris in October 1976 aged 98.
Eileen Gray 1027 Table (image courtesy of The Irish Times)
Eileen Gray Seated in her Paris apartment (image courtesy of The Irish Times)
Recognition at Last
Since her death her work has become highly collectible. In 2009 her ‘Dragons Chair achieved $28 million at auction as part of the sale of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent’s estate, the highest price ever achieved for a piece of decorative art at auction.
Eileen Gray Dragon Chair (image courtesy of Christies)
Our Top Picks Here are our favourite pieces of Grays work, a browse online will turn up more treasures.We hope you enjoyed this piece. To help you achieve the modernist look in your home without spending $28 million! We’ve put together some key lighting pieces below plus a great Pinterest board celebrating all things modernist. Enjoy & don’t forget to tell us what you think or get in touch if you need help!
EileenGray_Green Bibendum Chair (image Courtesy of Aram UK)
Eileen Gray – Day bed (image courtesy of Aram UK)
Eileen Gray – Roattino Light (image courtesy of Aram UK)