Some very talented women have left their mark on the history of design in the 20th century. However, they were paid less than their male counterparts, even less rewarded, too few of them achieved the notoriety they deserved during their lifetime. An injustice that experts and other curators are trying to repair curators are trying to repair. The proof is in the retrospectives devoted to Charlotte Perriand in 2005-2006, and more recently to Eileen Gray in 2013, by one of the most one of the most influential cultural institutions in the field of contemporary art, the art, the Centre Pompidou
Looking at the pivotal periods
the history of design, there have always been innovative and
from the Bauhaus era to the 1980s, through the development of
the development of industrial design after the Second World War. This
article looks back at the great female figures in the history of design, and those
lesser known, often wrongly so.
One of the first great female figures in the history of design was Eileen Gray (1878-1976). Born in Enniscorthy in the south of Ireland, Eileen Gray was determined to pursue a career in art and gave up her marriage with the intention of entering art school. She entered the Slade School of Fine Art in London, then decided to go and live in Paris alone. In 1902 she exhibited a watercolour at the Grand Palais, then a painting in 1905 for the Salon de la Société des artistes français. She gradually moved into arts and crafts and in 1910 opened a workshop with the Japanese-born, naturalized French master lacquerer and sculptor, Senzo Sugawara. She began exhibiting decorative panels, combining lacquer and rare woods, geometric abstractions and Japanese-inspired motifs.
The early 1920s marked a turning point in Eileen Gray’s career. She became aware of the Dutch avant-garde De Stijl movement and Marcel Breuer ‘s early steel tube designs, which led her to abandon the Art Deco style. She then began to design furniture. Along with Marcel Breuer, René Herbst, Charlotte Perriand and Gerrit Rietveld(design-market link), she was one of the precursors of tubular steel furniture. Then came the great project of her career: from 1926 to 1929, she built the villa E 1027 with her partner, the Romanian architect Jean Badovici, which is considered one of the masterpieces of modern architecture of the time. She collaborated with Badovici on the structure of the house, and also designed all the furniture.
She was one of the great figures of the Bauhaus School (1919-1933) and invented modern tapestry. Anni Albers (1899-1994) remains relatively unknown. Born into the Berlin bourgeoisie, she enrolled at the Hamburg School of Applied Arts, which she left unsatisfied to try her hand at the Bauhaus(design-market link) in 1922. The woman who was still called Annie Fleischmann first tried her hand at wood and metal workshops, but reluctantly had to switch to textiles because she suffered from a neurological disorder, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Inspired by the colour courses of the painter Paul Klee (1879-1940), Albers realised the objectives of the Bauhaus by designing tapestries halfway between the piece of furniture and the painting, between the single piece and the multiple. She turned weaving into an avant-garde art form in which a powerful language of colour and abstract motifs was developed.
Among the pioneers of design is of course Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999). Noticed in the 1920s by Le Corbusier, she collaborated for 10 years (1927-1937) with the brilliant Swiss architect and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret to design the interior furniture for the buildings designed by the two architects. This is how she came up with the famous Chaise Longue model LC4, also known as the ” Chaise Longue Le Corbusier “. But Charlotte Perriand is much more than this shortcut. Close to the European, Japanese and Brazilian avant-gardes, she led an intense career for 75 years, creating rational and elegant furniture, carrying out numerous interior fittings for some of the most audacious projects of their time, and even devoting almost 20 years of her life (1967-1989) to the design of the “Les Arcs” resort.
A name that resonates in the history of post-war design and still does today: Knoll. Florence Knoll (1917-2019), presided from 1955 to 1965 over the destiny of the very famous American furniture and office equipment publisher Knoll, founded in 1938 by her future husband, Hans Knoll. Considered by some to be the “founding mother of technological design”, Florence Knoll, along with her husband, imposed a “Knoll” style that blended interior architecture, design, production, textiles and graphic design in office furnishings. A gifted student of the German designer and architect Mies van der Rohe, she worked with Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and Marcel Breuer (1902-1981). She was responsible for many pieces of furniture characterised by elegant and functional design
In addition to these five great female figures of modern and contemporary design, it is worth mentioning, for the sake of completeness, the German designer and interior architect Lilly Reich (1885-1947), who worked for many years with Mies van der Rohe. Eino Aalto née Marsio (1894-1949) was not just the wife of… and did not just design glasses (the Bölgeblick line of tableware for Iittala). Together with her husband, Alvar Aalto (1898-1916, married in 1924), one of Finland’s most famous architects and designers, she designed not only buildings but also interior surfaces, furniture, lamps, furnishings and glassware from the 1920s onwards. In 1935, the Aalto’s, together with Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahl, founded Artek, a company that sold lighting and furniture designed by the Aalto’s, and which still exists (owned by Vitra since 2013)
Italy is a great country for design and has also seen the emergence ofleading designers and visual artists, including Anna Ferrieri (1918-2006), artistic director of Kartell from 1976 to 1987, Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992), Gae Aulenti (1927-2012) and Afra Scarpa (1937-2011). On the Scandinavian side, we should mention the Swedish designer Greta Grossman (1906-1999), who created the Grasshopper and Cobra lamps. Finally, the Englishwoman Lucienne Day (1917-2010), wife of designer Robin Day, was one of the most influential textile designers of the 1950s and 1960s.
To read about the recognition of women in design history:
The Voice of Women by Libby Sellers, Pyramyd Edition
Women Designers: A Century of Design by Marion Vignal, Editions Aubanel
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