Eileen Gray (born Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith; 9 August 1878 – 31 October 1976) was an Anglo-Irish architect and furniture designer and a pioneer of the Modern Movement in architecture. Over her career, she was associated with many notable European artists of her era, including Kathleen Scott, Adrienne Gorska, Le Corbusier, and Jean Badovici, with whom she was romantically involved. Her most famous work is the house known as E-1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France.
Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith
9 August 1878
|Died||31 October 1976 (aged 98)|
|Alma mater||Slade School of Fine Art|
|Occupation||Architect, furniture designer|
|Parent(s)||James McLaren Smith |
Tempe à Pailla House
Gray was born Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith on 9 August 1878 at Brownswood, an estate near Enniscorthy, in County Wexford, Ireland. She was the youngest of five children in a Protestant Anglo-Irish family.
Her father, James MacLaren Smith, was a Scottish landscape painter. He encouraged Gray's interest in painting and drawing. Although he was a minor figure, James corresponded with major artists of the day.
Her parents’ marriage broke up when she was eleven and her father left Ireland to live and paint in Europe.
Gray's mother, Eveleen Pounden, was a granddaughter of Francis Stuart, 10th Earl of Moray. She became the 19th Baroness Gray in 1895 after the death of her uncle. Although the couple was already separated by this point, Gray's father changed his name to Smith-Gray by royal licence and the four children were from then on known as Gray.
Both Gray's brother and father died in 1900.
Gray's serious art education began in 1900 at the Slade School in London. Gray was a registered fine arts student at Slade from 1900 to 1902. Although fine arts education was typical for a young woman of Gray's class, Slade was an unusual choice. Known as a bohemian school, the classes at Slade were generally co-educational which was usual for the time. Gray was one of 168 female students in a class of 228.
In 1902, Gray moved to Paris with Kathleen Bruce and Jessie Gavin. They enrolled at the Académie Colarossi, an art school popular with foreign students, but soon switched to the Académie Julian.
In 1905, Gray returned to London to be with her ill mother. For the next two years, she studied lacquering with Dean Charles before returning to Paris. When she returned to Paris, Gray purchased a flat in the rue Bonaparte, and began training with Seizo Sugawara. Sugawara was from Jahoji, a village in northern Japan famous for its lacquer work, and he was in Paris to restore the lacquer pieces Japan had sent to the Exposition Universale. Gray was so dedicated to learning the trade that she suffered the so-called lacquer disease, a painful rash on her hands, but that did not stop her from working.
Gray served as an ambulance driver at the beginning of World War I before returning to England to wait out the war with Sugawara.
After the war Gray and Sugawara returned to Paris. In 1917, Gray was hired to redesigning the Rue de Lota apartment of society hostess Juliette Lévy. Also known as Madame Mathieu Levy, Juliette owned the fashion house and millinery shop.
The Rue de Lota apartment has been called "the epitome of Art Deco." A 1920 issue of Harper's Bazaar describes the Rue de Lota apartment as ‘thoroughly modern although there is much feeling for the antique’. The furniture included some of Gray's best known designs – the Bibendum Chair and the Pirogue Day Bed. The Bibendum chair was a take on the Michelin Man with tire like shapes sitting on a chromed steel frame. The chair's shape is reminiscent of the voluptuous figures of women in renaissance paintings, while the geometry calls back to the ideals of Werkbund. The Pirogue Day Bed was gondola-shaped and finished in patinated bronze lacquer, and is inspired by Polynesian dugout canoes.
The critical and financial success of the project prompted Gray to open her own shop in 1922. Jean Désert was located on the fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. The shop was named after an imaginary male owner “Jean” and Gray's love of the North African desert. Gray designed the facade of the shop herself. Jean Désert sold the abstract geometric rugs designed by Gray and woven in Evelyn Wyld's workshops. Clients included James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Elsa Schiaparelli.
Early on Gray used luxurious materials like exotic woods, ivory and furs. In the mid-1920s, her pieces became simpler and more industrial. This reflects her growing interest in the work of Le Corbusier and other Modernists, who valued utility and mathematical principles over ornamentation.
Jean Désert closed due to financial losses in 1930.
By 1921, Gray was romantically involved with Romanian architect and writer Jean Badovici who was 15 years her junior. He encouraged her growing interest in architecture. From 1922/1923 to 1926 Gray created an informal architectural apprenticeship for herself as she never received any formal training as an architect. She studied theoretical and technical books, took drafting lessons, and arranged to have Adrienne Gorska take her along to building sites. She also traveled with Badovici to study key buildings and learned by reworking architectural designs.
In 1926, she started work on a new holiday home near Monaco to share with Badovici. Because a foreigner in France couldn't wholly own property, Gray bought the land and put it in Badovici's name, making him her client on paper. Construction of the house took three years and Gray remained on site while Badovici visited occasionally.
The house was given the enigmatic name of E-1027. It was code for the lovers' names; the E standing for Eileen, the 10 for J, meaning Jean, the 2 for B standing for Badovici and the 7 for G standing for Gray. E-1027 is routinely described as a masterpiece.
E-1027 is a white cuboid built on rocky land on raised on pillars. According to Frances Stonor Saunders, E-1027 was formulated on Le Corbusier's "Five Points of the New Architecture" because it is an open plan house which stands on pillars with horizontal windows, an open facade and a roof accessible by staircase. However, Gray was critical of the avant-garde movement's focus on the exterior of buildings, writing "The interior plan should not be the incidental result of the facade; it should led to a complete harmonious, and logical life." According to architecture critic Rowan Moore, E-1027 "grows from furniture into a building." By this point, Gray was fascinated by lightweight, functional, multi-purpose furniture which she called "camping style". She created a tea trolley with a cork surface, to reduce the rattling of cups, and positioned mirrors so a visitor could see the back of their head. At the entrance of E-1027 Gray created a celluloid niche for hats with net shelves to allow a clear view without the risk of dust settling.
When E-1027 was finished, Badovici devoted an edition of his magazine to it and announced himself as its joint architect. This claim was disproven by Jennifer Goff, a curator at the National Museum of Ireland. According to Goff's research all extant plans of the house were in Gray's hand alone and “Badovici’s role was firstly client and secondly consultant architect.” In her six-year collaboration with Badovici, Gray was able to create 9 buildings and renovations, 4 of which were credited to Badovici.
Gray and Badovici broke up and in 1931 Gray started work on a new house, Tempe à Pailla, above the nearby town of Menton. The name Tempe à Pailla is translated into English as "Time and Hay" and references a Provençal proverb that say both are needed for figs to ripen. It was a small two bedroom house with a large terrace. Much of the furniture was transformable, including expandable wardrobes and a dining banquette that both folded for storage and could be turned into an occasional table. With Tempe à Pailla, Gray moved away from Le Corbusier's free plan ideal and created more separate spaces while maximizing the house's panoramic views. Gray's design also maximized airflow and natural light with features such as shuttered windows and skylights. Gray's multi-level kitchen was influenced by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky's Frankfurt Kitchen.
Le Corbusier often stayed at E-1027 and although he admired it, in 1938/1939 he painted its walls with Cubist murals of naked women. This violated Gray's express wish that E-1027 be free of any decoration. In 2013, The Observer critic Rowan Moore called it an “act of naked phallocracy” by a man asserting “his dominion, like a urinating dog, over the territory”, the nature of this "spasm of comic brutality" being "hotly debated" as "an act of vandalism... infringement of the original architect's intellectual property... a bravura improvement" or "just plain snobbery and sexism". One of the murals, titled Three Women, is Le Corbusier's response to Gray's use of desire and femininity in her work. The content of the painting (three feminine figures intertwined) could be a reference to Gray's bisexuality. 
E-1027 was also the setting for many tragedies. In 1965, Le Corbusier died of a heart attack shortly after swimming at the beach located nearby. In 1996, Heinz Peter Kägi, Marie-Louise Schelbert's gynecologist, was stabbed to death during an altercation with two men in the living room.
World War IEdit
In 1919 the 10th Salon des Artistes Decorateurs featured inexpensive postwar furniture. The goal of the Salon des Artistes was to reconstruct Paris and erase the scars of the war left on the country. In its efforts, multiple artists sought to reestablish that Paris was still the "Intellectual capital of the world". During this post-war reconstruction the push for modernization was ever-more evident. This exhibition was made in an attempt to endorse new arts of the French renaissance, stepping up to German designers. Gray participated in the exhibition, however her works were not recorded. In 1920 Harper's Bazaar, an article dedicated to keeping record of Gray's lacquer work stated "Laquer Walls and Furniture Displace Old Gods in Paris and London."
World War IIEdit
During World War II, Gray was interned as a foreign national, and her houses were looted. Many of her drawings, models, architectural notes, and personal papers were destroyed by bombing. German soldiers used the walls of E-1027 for target practice.
Renewed interest in Gray's work began in 1967 when historian Joseph Rykwert published an essay about her in the Italian design magazine Domus. After the publishing of the article many "students began to ring at her door" as eager to learn from the now famous designer.
The first retrospective exhibition of her work, titled Eileen Gray: Pioneer of Design, was held in London in 1972. A Dublin exhibition followed the next year. At the Dublin exhibit, the 95 year-old Gray was given an honorary fellowship by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.
Gray's intermittent relationship with Marie-Louise Damien ended in 1938, after which they never saw each other again, although both lived into their nineties in the same city.
Gray also had for some time an intermittent relationship with Jean Badovici, the Romanian architect and writer. He had written about her design work in 1924 and encouraged her interest in architecture. Their romantic involvement ended in 1932.
Having never lived in Ireland during her adult life, in her old age she reportedly stated, "I am without roots, but if I have any, they are in Ireland".
Gray's achievements were restricted during her lifetime. According to Reyner Banham, "[Eileen Gray's work] was, also, in its day, part of a personal style and philosophy of design which was, by the look of things, too rich for the punditry to take. And if the punditry didn't publish you, particularly in the great canon-defining compendia of the thirties, forties and fifties you dropped off the record, and ceased to be a part of the universe of scholarly discourse."
In February 2009, Gray's "Dragons" armchair made by her between 1917 and 1919 (acquired by her early patron Suzanne Talbot and later part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection) was sold at auction in Paris for €21.9 million (US$28.3 million), setting an auction record for 20th-century decorative art.
Marco Orsini's documentary, Gray Matters, was released in 2014. A biopic on Gray's life by Mary McGuckian, The Price of Desire opened in 2016. A 2020 short film by Michel Pitiot, In Conversation with Eileen Gray, was based on an unreleased 1973 interview with Andrew Hodgkinson.
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- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 15 October 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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- Adam, Peter (2000). Eileen Gray, Architect/Designer: A Biography (Rev. ed.). London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 9780500282182. OCLC 247408504.
- Adam, Peter (2019). Eileen Gray—Her Life and Work. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 9780500343548
- Barres, Renaud; Bernard, Catherine; Constant, Caroline; Gabet, Oliver; Garner, Philippe; Goff, Jennifer; Jacquin, Anne; Migayrou, Frederic; Pitiot Cloe; Starr, Ruth; et al. (Centre Pompidou, Paris) (2020). Pitiot, Cloe; Stritzler-Levine, Nina (eds.). Eileen Gray. New York: Bard Graduate Center. ISBN 978 0 300 25106 7.
- Constant, Caroline (2000). Eileen Gray. Phaidon. ISBN 978-0-7148-4844-0.
- Gray, Eileen; Adam, Peter; Lambirth, Andrew (2015). Eileen Gray: the private painter. London: Lund Humphries and Osborne Samuel. ISBN 9781848221833. OCLC 913514462.
- Gray, Eileen (2017). E.1027: Roquebrune-Cap-Martin 1926–29. Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin Center for American Architecture and Design. ISBN 9783803008312. OCLC 1039944275.
- Gray, Eileen, Peter Adam, Andrew Lamberth (2015). Eileen Gray, The Private Painter. London: Lund Humphries and Osborne Samuel. ISBN 9781848221833. OCLC 913514462.
- Charlotte Malterre-Barthes and Zosia Dzierżawska. Eileen Gray: A House Under the Sun. London: Nobrow, 2019. ISBN 9781910620434
- Rowlands, Penelope (2002). Eileen Gray. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-3269-4.
- Sambrano, Pedro (2015). Eileen Gray: her work and her world. Irish Academic Press. ISSN 1380-3204.
- St Hill, Cate (2015). Non-conformist: Modernist furniture designer, architect and painter Eileen Gray was long overlooked, but her recently restored E-1027 house on the Côte D'Azur drove Le Corbusier to impetuous acts of jealousy. Blueprint. ISSN 0268-4926.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eileen Gray.|
- "Eileen Gray – Lacquer screen". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 15 November 2007.
- Official Eileen Gray Website
- Friends of E.1027, non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of E.1027
- for a brief comparison between Gray's Bibendum chair and Le Corbusier's LC2 chair
- Official website of Marco Antonio Orsini's feature-length documentary, Gray Matters
- Official website of Mary McGuckian's feature drama on the life of Gray, The Price of Desire
- Finding aid for Eileen Gray architectural drawings, 1930-1947, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Accession No. 2002.M.25.