Irish Furniture designer and architect, Eileen Gray was a pioneer of the Modern Architecture and Deco Design Styles; her designs, for too long forgotten – until their resurfacing in the 1960s – are said to have inspired even Le Corbusier.
Shoulders for the giants
Born in an aristocratic Irish-Scottish family, Kathleen Eileen Moray Gray, born the 9th of August 1878, manifested a strong interest in the arts and design from a tender age; under her father’s tutelage, she attended the Slade School of Fine Art, one of the first female students to do so. After becoming fascinated with Art Noveau at the Paris World Fair, she went on to continue her studies at the French capital, beginning to make a name for herself as a designer of lacquered walls and decorative panels, eventually opening her own private gallery where her designs for lamps, tables and other pieces of furniture were displayed. Meeting, through the Salomn d’Autumne, the likes of Gropius, Le Corbusier, Robert Mallet-Stevens and Jean Badovici (her eventual lover), she’d go on to build her most famous creation, Villa E-1027, designed in accordance with Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus‘ theories. However, after her breakup with Badovici and Le Corbusier’s vandalization of eight walls (frescoed, without her consent and, as many believe, out of pettiness from the Swiss-French architect), she’d abandon both the group and her craft.
After sojourning in South France during World War II first and later transferring back to Paris, she grew further isolated, and both the design and architecture would quickly forget about her. However, by 1968, an article by Joseph Rykwert on the Domus magazine would bring the spotlight back on her work, and soon her furniture pieces re-entered production.
After her death, in 1976, the National Museum of Ireland, in Dublin, would acquire her full archive, eventually setting up a permanent exhibit, opening in 2002, while her designs are still being produced. A movie, “The Price of Desire”, detailing her life, came to be in 2015 as well.
Her theories on design and architecture have left an indelible mark on our ideas of modern living standards, with her tubular steel furniture, revolutionary at the time of their creation, still regarded as a classic today. She came to be considered the epitome of Modernism and is the only woman whose name is mentioned in the same breath as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer.
To create one must first question everything
What were her major works?
Eileen Gray’s next major contribution to design was in architecture. Encouraged by Le Corbusier and J.J.P Oud, she designed two houses in the Alpes Maritimes, one at Roquebrune which was built from 1926-1929, and the other at Castellar, built from 1932-1934. Both are considered to be among the purest examples of domestic architecture and interior design of the period. The inter-war years also saw Eileen Gray’s ‘Centre des Vacances’ project, which was shown in Le Corbusier’s Pavilion des Temps Nouveaux at the Paris International Exhibition of 1937.
Her design style was as distinctive as her way of working, and Gray developed an opulent, luxurious take on the geometric shapes and industrial materials used at the time, in design and architecture alike.
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eileen_Gray#/media/File:Le_salon_de_verre,_designed_by_Paul_Ruaud,_furniture_by_Eileen_Gray,_for_Madame_Mathieu-Levy_(boutique_J._Suzanne_Talbot),_Paris,_1922.jpg
The high point of her career was her appointment to the Royal Society of Art in London in 1972 as Royal Designer to Industry. The Museum of Modern Art added her legendary Adjustable Table E 1027 to its permanent design collection in 1978.
Made from soft leather and tubular steel, the Bibendum Chair and its clinically chic E-1027 glass and tubular steel table are now as familiar as icons of the International Style as Le Corbusier and Perriand’s classic Grand Confort club chairs.
Some of her other famous works:
- Aixia (1928)
- Bar Stool No. 1
- Bar Stool No. 2
- Bonaparte (1935)
- Non Conformist (1926)
- Roquebrune (1927)
- De Stijl (1922)
- Double X (1928)
- Jean (1929)
- Lou Perou (1926)
- Menton (1932)
- Occasional Table (1927)
- Petite Coiffeuse (1926)
- Rivoli (1928)
- Pailla (1927)
- Roattino (1931)
- Tube Light (1927)