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Eileen Gray

Irish  •  1878-1976

Biography

One of the most important designers working in early twentieth-century Paris was in fact an unlikely expatriate: an extraordinary, aristocratic woman from provincial Ireland named Eileen Gray. After completing studies in painting at the Slade in London, Gray moved to Paris in 1906. There she partnered with the Japanese lacquer master Seizo Sugawara, applying the traditional technique to her original designs. She opened her gallery, Jean Désert, in 1922 and found steady work producing luxury objects for an elite clientele.

Soon, however, she branched out to larger projects. As an interior designer, she completed apartments for Juliette Lévy and her friend Jean Badovici. Encouraged by Badovici, she learned architectural drawing and designed the villa E-1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, which was completed in 1929. Gray was largely forgotten until 1968, when the architectural historian Joseph Rykwert praised her in an article for Domus. Four years later her lacquer screen "Le Destin" achieved the top price in the historic auction of couturier Jacques Doucet's collection in Paris. Recognition — in the form of scholarship, exhibitions and collecting — has gained steady momentum ever since. As curator Jennifer Goff has written, "Collectors vie to own her furniture; historians compete to document her life."

Insights

  • Phillips achieved £1,482,500 in April 2016 for an important folding "brick" screen, a world auction record for an Eileen Gray screen.

  • Phillips achieved $1,538,500 in December 2014 for The Maharaja of Indore's Transat chair from Manik Bagh Palace, a world auction record for the form.

  • Major works by Eileen Gray are in the collections of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, New York's The Museum of Modern Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

"To create, one must first question everything."

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