Eileen Gray (1879 – 1976) Irish/French Furniture Designer

Lacquer screen, Eileen Gray, about 1923, Paris, France
Lacquer screen, Eileen Gray, about 1923, Paris, France

Eileen Gray (1879-1976) was an Irish/French furniture designer and architect active in France. 

Education

In 1898 she entered the Slade School of Art, London, with additional instruction in oriental lacquer technique in the D.Charles shop in Soho. 

Biography

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 Fair Eastern and French influences. 

At the Salon des Artistes Decorators in 1913, her pioneering modern furniture designs attracted the attention of Jacques Doucet. He commissioned three pieces unique, two chairs and the lacquered screen he Destin (1914). The screen with symbolist-inspired figures on one side and a starkly abstract design on a red-Lacquered ground. It 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 tongue 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 designs in furniture, carpets and lacquerware. However, only the carpets attracted buyers, and the gallery closed in 1930. She rejected the 1930 stylized revival design 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 material.

Sample of Works

Recognition

Her work (Symbolist-inspired bas-relief) was first shown at; 

  • 1913 Société des Artistes Décorateurs (and at its 1923, 1924, and 1933 events) and, subsequently at the 1922 Salon d’Automne; 
  • 1930, 1932, and 1956 exhibitions of UAM (Union des Artistes Modernes); 
  • Pavilion des Temps Nouveaux, 1937 Paris ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne’; 
  • 1937 ‘Le Décor de la Vie de 1909 a 1925,’ Pavilion Marsan in Paris; 
  • 1970 ‘Modern Chairs,’ Whitechapel Gallery, London; 
  • 1976 ‘Cinquantenaire de L’Exposition de 1925,’ Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs; 
  • 1979 ‘Paris-Moscou,’ Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. 
  • In 1952, she participated in a project for an exhibition of UAM, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris. 
  • Work subject of 1970 exhibitions, Graz and Vienna; 
  • 1972 exhibition sponsored by the Royal Institute of British Architects, Heinz Gallery, London; 
  • 1975 travelling American exhibition sponsored by the Architectural League of New York; 
  • 1979 exhibition sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council; 1980 ‘Eileen Gray and les Arts Décoratifs,’ Rosa Esman Gallery, New York; 
  • 1970—80 travelling exhibition, New York Museum of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum, London; 
  • 1992 ‘Eileen Gray’ exhibition, Design Museum, London. 
  • Some pieces shown at 1976 ‘1925’ exhibition, Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs. 

In 1972, she was admitted into the Royal Society of Art, London; in 1972, she was elected Royal Designer for Industry, London; in 1973, she became an honorary fellow of the Institute of Architects, Ireland.

Design Store

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL

Campbell, G. (2006). The Grove Encyclopedia of decorative arts. Oxford University Press.

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