Collection 1880s–1940s

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Eileen Gray. Screen. 1922 587

Lacquered wood and metal rods, 74 1/2 x 53 1/2 x 3/4" (189.2 x 135.9 x 1.9 cm). Hector Guimard Fund

Curator, Andrew Gardner: When I look at this object, I'm just mesmerized by the sheer amount of work that goes into the creation of that high gloss finish which is almost like a mirror. The layers upon layers of lacquer sap that have to be applied to each of those individual wood pieces. This is a time-honored traditional craft technique that she mastered after extensive studies with a Japanese Lacquer master. It's painstaking work.

My name is Andrew Gardner and I'm a Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Architecture and Design.

You're looking at a free-standing screen by the Anglo-Irish designer, Eileen Gray. The effect of alternating rows of different sized rectangles creates a series of negative and positive spaces—so the sense of opacity and transparency all at once.

She was very much interested in the ways that objects could be transformed to the needs of the particular user. You can endlessly move the piece around and achieve different kinds of spaces through small adjustments to the object.

Eileen Gray was a designer and architect who spent most of her working life in France. Paris, at the time, was very much a global epicenter of arts and culture. And Eileen Gray really encapsulated this new globalized energy. But, of course, confronted the challenges of being a woman in a man's world. She very much set her own agenda and she was able to develop a career as an architect, which is something that for women at that moment was almost unheard of.