Eileen Gray - Modern Masters London Tuesday, April 26, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Eileen Gray ‘Important folding ‘Brick’ screen’, circa 1925

    Eileen Gray ‘Important folding ‘Brick’ screen’, circa 1925 from our Modern Masters: Design Evening Sale taking place on 27 April 2016 in London.

  • Provenance

    Jean Désert, Paris
    Jean Badovici, Paris
    Mr. & Mrs. Robert Walker, Paris
    Private collection
    Sotheby’s, New York, ‘Important 20th Century Furniture/A Philip Johnson Townhouse’, May 6, 1989, lot 91
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    'Picasso, Braque, Léger and the Cubist Spirit 1919-1939', Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine, June 29-October 20, 1996

  • Literature

    Philippe Garner, Eileen Gray: Designer and Architect, Cologne, 1993, illustrated on the front cover, p. 48, fig. 5
    Kenneth Wayne, Picasso, Braque, Léger and the Cubist Spirit 1919-1939, exh. cat., Portland Museum of Art, Portland, 1996, illustrated p. 45
    Peter Adam, Eileen Gray: Architect/Designer, New York, 2000 (rev. ed.), illustrated p. 123, cat. rais. no. 3.4
    Peter Adam, Eileen Gray: Her Life and Work, Munich, 2008, illustrated p. 263
    Roger Griffith, Margo Delidow, and Chris McGlinchey, ‘Peeling back the layers: Eileen Gray’s brick screens’, Studies in Conservation, vol. 57, 2012,illustrated p. S133, figs. 3-4
    Jennifer Goff, Eileen Gray: Her Work and Her World, Sallins, 2015, illustrated p. 17, fig. 7

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present screen is listed as object number 3.4 in Peter Adam’s Catalogue Raisonné of Eileen Gray’s freestanding furniture published in both his original 1987 and revised 2000 editions of Eileen Gray: Architect/Designer. Adam notes the provenance as Jean Badovici’s rue Chateaubriand apartment, which Gray designed for the Romanian architect in the late 1920s.

    Unique in its configuration, and among the largest examples, the present screen is composed of thirty-six full bricks with raised panels on either side and eight half-bricks, all forty-four of which are held together by threaded mild steel rods surmounted by domed brass spanner nuts of the same design as those on Gray’s “Transat” chair (circa 1926-1930), also owned by Badovici.

    In 2012 a team of conservators lead by Roger Griffith of the Museum of Modern Art’s Conservation Department completed an exhaustive survey of four ‘Brick’ screens, including the present lot. Samplings of this screen revealed the presence of two historic layers of urushi lacquer dating to the 1920s, over which appears a later layer of cellulose nitrate and lamp black, likely dating to the 1970s when Eileen Gray organized the restoration of most extant screens.

    ‘Brick’ screens are in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The first three of these screens were included in Griffith’s 2012 study and also show evidence of 1970s layers.

    In an undated letter to her niece Prunella Clough, Gray claimed to have produced only ten ‘Brick’ screens, as noted by Dr. Jennifer Goff, Curator of the Eileen Gray collection at the National Museum of Ireland (Eileen Gray, Her Work and Her World, 2015, p. 441). Of this small group, the present lot dates to the earliest years of production in the mid-1920s. Known informally as The Badovici Screen, it was reputedly purchased by its first owner from Gray’s Paris gallery Jean Désert, as stated by Philippe Garner in his notes accompanying Christie’s sale of another screen from the Château de Gourdon collection in 2011. The present screen was later acquired in the 1970s by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Walker, renowned collectors of Gray’s work, who installed it in their Paris apartment.

    Please note this lot has been requested by Cloé Pitiot, curator at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, for ‘Eileen Gray’, her fall 2018 exhibition scheduled for The Bard Graduate Center, New York.

    'The screens are a revolt', declared Eileen Gray to her niece, the artist Prunella Clough, in a 1971 letter now in the National Museum of Ireland. A sharp retort to the prevailing tastes of the day, Gray’s lacquered ‘Brick’ screens of the 1920s eschewed Art Deco’s burly ornamentation and volumetric curves in favour of stricter geometry, an abiding interest since childhood. A high-water mark of Gray’s fervid output between the wars, her folding screens affirmed a streamlined economy more in keeping with Modernist predilections. But Gray was loath to be ‘absorbed’ into any one movement. She bristled at the pundits of perpendicularity—Le Corbusier in particular—when she wrote, ‘A house is not a machine to live in. It is the shell of man, his extension…his spiritual emanation.’

    As a further rejoinder to Modernism, Gray aspired to the allure and beauty of details and rich finishes—not to their elimination—as evidenced by the use of urushi lacquer and raised central panels on either side of the present screen. Whereas her Modernist peers advocated a rejection of obsolete styles and timeworn methods, Gray embraced venerable traditions, notably that of Asian lacquer, which she first encountered as a fine art student at London’s Slade School in 1900. Her early interest in the medium bloomed into devotion after she moved to Paris and met her mentor, the young Japanese lacquer artist Seizo Sugawara (1884-1937). In subsequent decades Gray employed lacquer to masterful effect on her signature works, from ‘The Lotus Table’, her 1913-15 tour de force for couturier Jacques Doucet, to the Maharaja of Indore’s more starkly modern ‘Transat’ armchair (1930), which sold at Phillips, New York, for $1,538,500 in December 2014.

    Gray’s small series of freestanding ‘Brick’ screens from the 1920s followed from her first major interior, a seminal commission for Paris milliner Madame Juliette Lévy. Between 1918 and about 1922, Gray designed nearly every aspect of Lévy’s apartment on the rue de Lota in the 16th Arrondissement—furniture, lighting, wall treatments, rugs, textiles. From this axis mundi of pre-war design emanated a covey of Gray’s most storied works, including the lacquered ‘Pirogue’ daybed, alert on its dozen legs, and her unique ‘Dragon Armchair’, its arms and base formed from two coiling serpents. The latter sold in February 2009 in the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection at Christie’s Paris for €21,905,000, the highest price paid at auction for a work of twentieth-century design. In contrast to these zoomorphic objects, Gray lined Lévy’s bedroom hallway with a series of rectangular lacquered panels set like a ‘running bond’ pattern of bricks, some of which projected at right angles from the wall. Gray’s practical attempt to hide the hallway’s original mouldings and to animate its flat walls owed a debt to Cubism, then still a vital movement, which she greatly admired.

    Romanian critic and architect Jean Badovici (1893-1956), who befriended Gray at this fruitful juncture in her life, praised her abilities when he profiled her in a 1924 volume of L’Architecture Vivante: ‘The smallest details in the overall design are rigorously ordered in relation to the whole object and any useless details, which need to be eliminated, are removed.’ Badovici might as well have been speaking about the present screen, which he owned. Gray’s first freestanding ‘Brick’ screens, a white pair displayed in Gray’s “Bedroom-boudoir for Monte Carlo” at the 1923 Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, represented a sort of Cubist architecture. These non-building structures, an ingenious attempt to extend the walls of the house—the ‘shell of man’—and to control the emanation of both natural and artificial light, represented an important step in her full ascension from artisan to architect, a development fully realized in her two extant masterpieces, the Roquebrune-Cap-Martin villa E-1027 (1926-29), which Gray designed for Badovici, as well as Tempe à Pailla (1931-35), her own house.

  • Artist Biography

    Eileen Gray

    Irish • 1878 - 1976

    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."

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Important folding 'Brick' screen

circa 1925
Black lacquered wood, steel, brass.
213.4 cm (84 in.) tall, variable width, as pictured: 177.8 cm (70 in.). Each large brick: approximately 26.7 x 40 x 2 cm (10 1/2 x 15 3/4 x 0 3/4 in.)

£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for £1,482,500

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta e Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Modern Masters

London Auction 27 April 2016