Eileen Gray, a major figure in 20th century design and architecture

Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was a leading figure prominent figure in 20th century architecture and design. She is one of the of these disciplines with Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999), whose taste for she shared a taste for innovation and independence. Beginning as a painter, Eileen Gray painting, Eileen Gray gradually turned to arts and crafts, decoration and decoration and interior design, before designing innovative architectural projects architectural projects for her time. Eileen Gray’s work is abundant. This is why we have chosen to explain how this free spirit embraced the transformations of her time free spirit embraced the transformations in design and architecture at the turn of the the 1920s, a pivotal period in which a renewal of architectural ideas was architectural ideas.

Portrait de Eileen Gray en 1914. Crédits : George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive - Getty
Portrait of Eileen Gray in 1914. Credits: George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive – Getty

Eileen Gray, whose real name was Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith, was born on 9 August 1878 in Enniscorthy in the South East of Ireland, in a very Victorian family environment. She soon developed an independent independent temperament and decided to enter the Slade School of Fine Art (art department of University College London) in 1901. In 1902, she returned to returned to Paris where she had seen the 1900 Universal Exhibition. She then attended at the Académie Colarossi and the Académie Julian. She settled in Paris in Paris in 1907 where she studied lacquering under the direction of the master japanese-born, naturalized French master lacquerer and sculptor, Seizo Sugawara.

Gradually, Eileen Gray perfected her skills and made lacquer panels and carpets (she learns to dye and weave) which she markets in 2 workshops. In art Deco period, her panels of lacquer and rare wood attracted the eye of art collector Jacques Doucet: her career was launched. From 1919 to 1924, Eileen Gray was entrusted with the decoration of the flat of Madame Mathieu Lévy (Suzanne Talbot), rue de Lota in Paris. Suzanne Talbot was then an influential figure in the Paris fashion world.

Paravent laqué rouge Le destin, conception Eileen Gray, 1914. Une œuvre acquise par le collectionneur Jacques Doucet.
Red lacquered screen Le destin, designed by Eileen Gray, 1914. A work acquired by the collector Jacques Doucet.
Table au Bilboquet, 1917, design Eileen Gray. Commande réalisée pour Jacques Doucet. Une table laquée noir magnifique. Eileen Gray réalisa parmi les plus belles pièces Art déco laquées du début XXe siècle.
Table au Bilboquet, 1917, design by Eileen Gray. Commissioned for Jacques Doucet. A magnificent black lacquered table. Eileen Gray made some of the most beautiful lacquered Art Deco pieces of the early 20th century.
Paravent Brick, design Eileen Gray, 1922-1925. Cette création marque le passage de Gray de l’Art décoratif au modernisme, de la figuration à l’abstraction. Les carrés en bois noir laqué sont des unités indépendantes et modulables, ils créent des contrastes, entre ombre et lumière, avec une certaine rigueur géométrique.
Brick screen, design by Eileen Gray, 1922-1925. This design marks Gray’s transition from Art Deco to Modernism, from figuration to abstraction. The black lacquered wood squares are independent and modular units, creating contrasts between light and shadow with a certain geometric rigour.

With the 1920s, Art Deco declines. A new generation of architects and designers condemned the taste for ornamentation and developed a new style marked by geometric rigour and and new architectural concepts. Eileen Gray adheres to the new ideas of the time. At the same time, she met the Romanian-born architect jean Badovici. Together they designed and built the famous Villa E-1027, considered a jewel of modern architecture. After the war, Eileen Gray continued to be active, albeit with more projects.

An early Art Deco artist – she loved precious materials – Gray’s career took off as new ideas in architecture and design emerged. Avant-garde currents such as De Stijl and Constructivism “shook up” the classical codes of the time. In France, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925 already outlined the modernist talent of the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens. In Germany, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe were teaching and preparing what would become the international style in architecture…

En 1925, Robert Mallet-Stevens a achevé le 1er noyau de le célèbre Villa Noailles qui lui est commandée par le Vicomte Charles de Noailles. En avance sur son temps, Robert Mallet-Stevens fera appel au talent d’Eileen Gray pour décorer la villa.
In 1925, Robert Mallet-Stevens completed thefirst nucleus of the famous Villa Noailles, which was commissioned by the Viscount Charles de Noailles. Ahead of his time, Robert Mallet-Stevens called upon the talent of Eileen Gray to decorate the villa.

A fine and open mind, Eileen Gray adhered to modern ideas. In 1929, she was one of the founding members of the UAM (Union des Artistes Modernes) with Robert Mallet-Stevens, Charlotte Perriand, René Herbst, and Jean Prouvé. They buried the elitism of Art Deco, and wanted a functional, more rational design adapted to a modern era.

So what made Eileen Gray turn to these Eileen Gray to these modernist ideas? In 1923, she visited an exhibition dedicated to the radical Dutch De Stijl movement at La Galerie de Galerie de L’Effort Moderne, which struck her. Eileen Gray admired the designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld. This is why in 1924 she created the The De Stijl Table, afirst step towards the creation of pure and functional functional furniture.

Table basse polyvalente De Stijl. Eileen Gray rompt avec l’esprit Art déco de ses premières créations. Un design géométrique qui vise l’utilité. La créatrice s’en servait comme d’une table à thé.
De Stijl multipurpose coffee table. Eileen Gray broke with the Art Deco spirit of her first creations. A geometrical design that aims at utility. The designer used it as a tea table

Then, in 1925, on the occasion of the the famous Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes And Industrial Arts in Paris, she denounced the “monstrosities of Art Deco” and disavowed her “Art Deco art Deco “antiques”, in particular her lamps and lacquered wood. In Utrecht, she visited the famous Schröder House designed by Gerrit Rietveld. An architectural ode to to the straight line and the right angle and a desire to create modular modular living spaces…

Maison Schröder, architecte : Gerrit Rietveld, vue de l’intérieur. Au second plan, on reconnaît la fameuse Chaise Rouge et Bleue de l’architecte et designer batave.
Schröder House, architect: Gerrit Rietveld, interior view. In the background, you can see the famous Red and Blue Chair by the Dutch architect and designer.

From then on, Eileen Gray continued to of the avant-garde ideas of the time. From 1926 to 1929, she with her companion Jean Badovici an emblematic project: the design the design and interior layout of Villa E-1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, a jewel of modern architecture. If the house revisits certain points of modern architecture set out in 1927 by Le Corbusier, Gray and Badovici wanted a warmer, more intimate interior design, and less dictated by the Swiss master’s architectural concepts.

Villa-E1027, conception et réalisation : Jean Badovici et Eileen Gray. Conçue de 1926 à 1929, la villa, fresques comprises, avec son jardin et son terrain a été classée au titre des monuments historiques.
Villa-E1027, designed and built by Jean Badovici and Eileen Gray. Designed between 1926 and 1929, the villa, including the frescoes, with its garden and grounds, has been classified as a historical monuments
Table Ajustable E 1027, design Eileen Gray pour l’intérieur de la Villa E-1027, 1926-1929. Table d'appoint composée d'une structure chromée et d'un plateau en verre de cristal clair et réglable. Loin de l’objet décoratif, cette table se veut avant tout pratique et utile. Un grand classique du design du XXe siècle.
Adjustable Table E 1027, design by Eileen Gray for the interior of Villa E-1027, 1926-1929. A side table with a chromed structure and an adjustable clear crystal glass top. Far from being a decorative object, this table is above all practical and useful. A great classic of 20th century design
Fauteuil Transat, design Eileen Gray pour l’ameublement de la Villa E-1027. Sycomore verni, acier tubulaire et cuir synthétique. Pièce iconique du design moderne, le Fauteuil Transat incarne l’évolution du mobilier design dans les années 1920.
Transat armchair, designed by Eileen Gray for the furnishings of Villa E-1027. Varnished sycamore, tubular steel and synthetic leather. An iconic piece of modern design, the Fauteuil Transat embodies the evolution of design furniture in the 1920s.
Pour la Villa E-1027, Eileen Gray imagine un un mobilier élégant, fonctionnel et très astucieux. Ici, meuble reconstitué d'après l'original d'Eileen Gray dans la chambre d'ami de la villa E-1027 © Photographe Manuel Bougot.
For Villa E-1027, Eileen Gray designed elegant, functional and very clever furniture. Here, a piece of furniture reconstituted after the original by Eileen Gray in the guest room of Villa E-1027.
Photographer Manuel Bougot
Miroir mobile conçu pour la chambre principale de la Villa-E1027, design Eileen Gray. L’utilité et l’usage privilégiés. (réédition et don de la société Aram Designs) © Droits réservés ayants droit E. Gray et J. Badovici - Photographe Manuel Bougot.
Mobile mirror designed for the master bedroom of Villa-E1027, design by Eileen Gray. Utility and use are privileged. (re-edition and gift of the company Aram Designs)
Rights reserved by E. Gray and J. Badovici – Photographer Manuel Bougot.

For Villa E-1027, Eileen Gray furniture in accordance with the modern ideas of the time, which advocated the subjection of structure to function of structure to function, and the use of furniture with combined functions. Which moreover, she can be considered one of the precursors of the tubular steel furniture of the tubular steel structure of the 1920s, along with Marcel Breuer, Gerrit Rietveld and Charlotte Perriand.

Chaise de salle à manger, design Eileen Gray pour l’ameublement de la Villa E-1027. Acier nickelé, cuir brun, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris © DR.
Dining chair, designed by Eileen Gray for the furnishing of Villa E-1027. Nickel-plated steel, brown leather, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris.
Fauteuil Bibendum, design Eileen Gray, 1930. Pied en métal chromé, toile. © photo : Monsieur Christian Baraja, Studio SLB
Bibendum armchair, design by Eileen Gray, 1930. Chrome-plated metal base, canvas.
photo: Mr Christian Baraja, Studio SLB

The pieces of furniture designed in the the 1920s by Eileen Gray and the creation of Villa E-1027 are witnesses to the the furniture designed by Eileen Gray in the 1920s and the realisation of Villa E-1027 are witnesses to the evolution of design and architecture of that time. Modern, Eileen Gray navigated between the most important trends of her time. However, she always knew how to make her mark in order to design an elegant and human aesthetic and human aesthetic, in the image of her personality. Having fallen into oblivion in the the second half of the twentieth century, her work has been rediscovered over the last ten years rediscovered and appreciated for its true value. In 2009, on the occasion of the auction of the auction of the Yves-Saint-Laurent – Pierre Bergé collection, the by Eileen Gray around 1917-1919, sold for 21.9 million euros 21.9 million, making it thesecondmost expensive piece of furniture in history most expensive piece of furniture in history.

Fauteuil aux Dragons, conception Eileen Gray, vers 1917-1919. Une pièce Art déco exceptionnelle.
Dragon Armchair, designed by Eileen Gray, circa 1917-1919. An exceptional Art Deco piece.

François Boutard