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White Gray Black

Eileen Gray (Anglo-Irish, 1879–1976)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Irish furniture designer and architect, active in France. In 1898 she entered the Slade School of Art, London, with additional instruction in oriental lacquer technique in D. Charles’s shop in Soho. She moved to Paris in 1902, where she continued her training with the Japanese lacquer master Seizo Sugawara. Her first lacquered furniture, including decorative panels, folding screens, small tables and other large pieces, appeared in 1910 and reflected a unique stylistic pastiche of Far Eastern and French influences. At the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs in 1913 her pioneering modern furniture designs attracted the attention of Jacques Doucet. He commissioned three pièces uniques, two chairs and the lacquered screen Le Destin (1914). The screen, with Symbolist-inspired figures on one side and a starkly abstract design on a red-lacquered ground on the other, places Gray among the earliest 20th-century designers using geometric abstraction. She designed a theatrical interior in 1919 for the Paris milliner Suzanne Talbot, which, despite its African-inspired boat-shaped chaise longue and draped animal skins, revealed a greater tendency towards architectural shapes.

In 1922 Gray opened the Galerie Jean Désert in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where she displayed her own designs in furniture, carpets and lacquerware in addition to sculpture by Ossip Zadkine and engravings by Chana Orloff. Only the carpets attracted buyers, however, and the gallery closed in 1930. A white lacquer bedroom–boudoir, severely criticized when it was shown at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs of 1923, was championed by J. J. P. Oud, who influenced the dedication of the entire issue of 1924 of the Dutch journal Wendingen to her work. She rejected the stylized revival designs of Art Deco and from 1925 began integrating contemporary materials and modern functionalism in her furniture. Tubular steel, aluminium and glass gradually replaced lacquer and rare woods as her primary materials. In 1927, encouraged by the Romanian architect Jean Badovici, she designed and built a villa for herself, ‘E-1027’, at Roquebrune on the Mediterranean coast. The house reflected a global conception of the habitat, emphasizing the organization of space and a sense of comfort. In 1930–31 she designed the Paris studio/apartment of Badovici and, in 1934, another villa for herself at Castellar, near Menton, where she lived until the mid-1950s. In 1937 her design for a cultural centre was shown by Le Corbusier at the Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris. An active early member of the Union des Artistes Modernes, she returned to Paris in 1945. Shortly before her death she was working with new forms of plastic.

Charlotte Moser
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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