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       EILEEN GRAY

From February 20 to May 20, 2013

EILEEN GRAY: A singular figure of modernity

Berenice Abbot portrait de Eileen Gray

Berenice Abbott, Portrait of Eileen Gray, Paris, 1926
Courtesy Eileen Gray Archives
Commerce Graphics LTD

“From Eileen Gray, there remain unique, resolutely daring works, incomplete archives and… a series of mysteries. So Cloé Pitiot, curator of the exhibition, introduces her point.
The tone is set. The construction of the exhibition indeed seems to have been conceived as an investigation, aiming to reconstitute the coherence of an artistic course which could seem fragmented and to bring to the work of Eileen Gray the recognition which it lacked. Because the artist still remains today, despite the few spotlights given to her work since 1968, particularly unknown or poorly known, identified either as a contributor to Art Deco, or as a figure, difficult to grasp from elsewhere, of the Modern Movement.

Born in 1878 in Ireland, Eileen Gray began her artistic career at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. It was there that she discovered the art of lacquer, in which she would later excel and which she would definitely leave her mark on. But it was truly under the sign of painting that his first years unfolded, within an Anglo-Saxon artistic milieu then struggling, in London and Paris, with imagism and vorticism. The quest for meaning and intensity that animates these two movements - art finding its source in the flow (the vortex) of emotions - makes a lasting mark on Eileen Gray.

  “His art is not, as we have said, a cerebral art. It is, on the contrary, the expression of a sensitivity which vibrates to the new and rich forms of the new life; it was born from a spontaneous and powerful impetus. "(Jean Badovici," The art of Eileen Gray ", Wendingen, 6th series, n ° 6, Amsterdam, 1924, p.15.)

By going through all of her creation from the first drawings to the latest architectural projects, the visitor is invited to dive into what makes the specificity of Eileen Gray's creation, namely that it does not belong to any current. , does not feel constrained by any doctrine, while being closely linked to the concerns and aspirations of his time. That she explores the art of lacquer in Paris alongside Seizo Sugawara, discovers weaving on the foothills of the Atlas with Evelyn Wyld, questions the relationship of the body to space in the creation of pieces of furniture and the projects interior fittings, or finally invest, accompanied by Jean Badovici, the highly reserved domain of architects, it is always animated by the search for the total work of art combining the expression of its sensitivity to its insatiable quest for innovation .

THE ART OF LACQUER

Le magicien de la nuit

Eileen Gray - Seizo Sugawara, The Magician of the Night, circa 1913
Chinese lacquer panel engraved Coromandel style and enhanced with colors,
inlaid with burgau, on a plain background of red lacquer-blood;
original frame in black lacquer
Private collection
Photo Studio Sébert - Dr

It was in 1906, when she had been living in Paris for a few months, that Eileen Gray met Seizo Sugawara, a Japanese lacquer craftsman with whom she worked for more than twenty years. From their workshop, located at 11 rue Guénégaud, emerge major works of lacquer art, which quickly caught the interest of the couturier, collector and patron Jacques Doucet. Her taste for research and innovation led Eileen Gray to invent new shades hitherto absent from the art of lacquer, in particular her blues, which are now famous. We find them in Le Magicien de la nuit, exhibited at the Salon of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in 1913 and in the screen Le Destin completed in 1914, which Jacques Doucet will acquire. (There are two versions of The Magician of the Night, one of which, on a red background, hung in the exhibition, Destiny could not be presented there.)

In these two creations shows the oriental influence but also a very personal, symbolist and poetic dimension which gives the works their mysterious atmosphere. The mother-of-pearl-encrusted blue lotus flower, held by the Magician, is the focus of attention. But a set of black wire lines around the silhouettes, superimposed on the lacquer, precisely highlights the presence of each of the characters. The red background called 'sang-de-bœuf' contributes to the mystery of a thick night.

On the large red lacquer screen, Le Destin, another mystery seems to play out between the characters, two young nudes gray-blue and an old man wrapped in a silver shroud. As such, the articulation of the screen in several parts is obviously essential. It invites, as in the Japanese tradition, to shift the gaze from right to left. On the other side of Destiny, a set of geometric patterns, black and silver on a red background, build a majestic dreamlike universe.

If we remain, with The Magician, in the register of the decorative panel, the screen of Destiny operates a first foray into the third dimension and, at the same time, significantly, into abstraction. Eileen Gray will devote himself more and more to it in the following years thanks to her creations of rugs and screens.

ENTRY INTO THE THIRD DIMENSION: CARPETS AND SCREENS

As the exhibition trail underlines, the creation of rugs and screens marks an essential step for Eileen Gray on her journey to the third dimension. On the one hand, because they are three-dimensional works, on the other hand, because they participate fully in the construction of the space around them, through their play of materials, shapes and colors.

Eileen Gray discovered, in 1908, the traditional art of weaving during a trip with Evelyn Wyld on the foothills of the Atlas. Together, they opened a weaving workshop on rue Visconti, in Paris, from which a recognized production would emerge for many years, sold in particular in the Jean Désert gallery from 1922. When she worked on the design of rugs, Eileen Gray obviously considers their graphic dimension, but it also considers their thickness: nature of the yarn, origin of the wool, type of weaving, etc. So many concerns that make Eileen Gray rugs key elements in interior design.

Paravent Brick Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray, Brick screen, 1919-1922
Black lacquered wood
Private collection, courtesy Vallois gallery, Paris
Photo Arnaud Carpentier - Dr

The same goes for screens. Without patterns, colors or figures, the black brick screen is the one that best embodies this desire to shape space. Eileen Gray uses it in the interior design commissioned by Ms. Mathieu Levy (the milliner and great seamstress, owner of the Suzanne Talbot brand) for her apartment on rue Lota, in Paris. Lacquered wood bricks, articulated at various angles, adorn the wall of the hallway-anteroom. Playing with reflections, light, openings and closures, blacks and whites, the smooth and uncluttered surfaces of the screen's bricks enliven the space with an unexpected life.

Coiffeuse-paravent

Eileen Gray, Dressing table, 1926-1929
Painted wooden structure covered with aluminum foil, mirrors, glass shelves, movable and swivel drawers lined with cork and lined with copper foil
Furniture from E 1027, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
Center Pompidou, Mnam-Cci, Paris
Photo Jean-Claude Planchet-Center Pompidou, Mnam-Cci / Dist RMN-GP - Dr

Extensions of these reflections, the dressing table pushes the question of thickness even further. Here, the screen becomes furniture. Its painted wood structure covered with aluminum foil is enlivened by mirrors, glass shelves and movable and swiveling drawers, lined with cork and lined with copper foil. The folding dressing table testifies to Eileen Gray's interest, which is also that of her time, for the multifunctionality of furniture and its absolute integration into architecture.

THE JEAN DESERT GALLERY

Galerie Jean Désert

Front of the Jean Désert gallery - 217, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Paris, circa 1927
Private collection - Courtesy Eileen Gray Archive

On May 17, 1922, at 217 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré in Paris, Eileen Gray inaugurated her gallery, mysteriously named Jean Désert. There, she sells all of her creation, "lacquer screens, lacquer furniture, wooden furniture, hangings, lamps, sofas, mirrors, rugs, decoration and installation of apartments", to an enlightened and wealthy clientele (among which include Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, Philippe de Rothschild, Elsa Schiaparelli, Boris Lacroix, Henri Pacon or even Loïe Fuller or Damia).
Surrounded by many and talented collaborators (the lacquerer Seizo Sugawara, the cabinetmaker plasterer of Rodin, Kichizo Inagaki, the furniture editor Abel Motté, or even the textile designer Hélène Henry) she nurtured in these "Jean Désert years" (1922-1930) a prolific production which was to be considerably renewed: the chromed metal tube then began to make its appearance in his work.

Eileen Gray creates in this space of the Jean Désert gallery an extraordinary universe, far from that, very formatted, of the usual decorative art galleries. The sober and elegant facade, enhanced with the help of architect Jean Badovici, whom she met at that time, features large glazed openings to attract the gaze of passers-by. Eileen Gray partially encloses it with large curtains, thus arousing curiosity. Inside, a tour presents the creations in successive sets, playing on shapes, colors and materials to evoke distant civilizations or imaginary worlds. It thus invites visitors to live a true sensory experience. A journalist from the Chicago Tribune will evoke, at the end of his visit, “an experience with the unheard of, a stay in the unheard of” (nbp: “Odd Designs at Art Studio“ Jean Dessert [sic] ”. Furniture in Bizarre Forms and Styles ”, Chicago Tribune, July 7, 1922).

On May 17, 1922, at 217 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré in Paris, Eileen Gray inaugurated her gallery, mysteriously named Jean Désert. There, she sells all of her creation, "lacquer screens, lacquer furniture, wooden furniture, hangings, lamps, sofas, mirrors, rugs, decoration and installation of apartments", to an enlightened and wealthy clientele (among which include Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, Philippe de Rothschild, Elsa Schiaparelli, Boris Lacroix, Henri Pacon or even Loïe Fuller or Damia).
Surrounded by many and talented collaborators (the lacquerer Seizo Sugawara, the cabinetmaker plasterer of Rodin, Kichizo Inagaki, the furniture editor Abel Motté, or even the textile designer Hélène Henry) she nurtured in these "Jean Désert years" (1922-1930) a prolific production which was to be considerably renewed: the chromed metal tube then began to make its appearance in his work.

Eileen Gray creates in this space of the Jean Désert gallery an extraordinary universe, far from that, very formatted, of the usual decorative art galleries. The sober and elegant facade, enhanced with the help of architect Jean Badovici, whom she met at that time, features large glazed openings to attract the gaze of passers-by. Eileen Gray partially encloses it with large curtains, thus arousing curiosity. Inside, a tour presents the creations in successive sets, playing on shapes, colors and materials to evoke distant civilizations or imaginary worlds. It thus invites visitors to live a true sensory experience. A journalist from the Chicago Tribune will evoke, at the end of his visit, “an experience with the unheard of, a stay in the unheard of” (nbp: “Odd Designs at Art Studio“ Jean Dessert [sic] ”. Furniture in Bizarre Forms and Styles ”, Chicago Tribune, July 7, 1922).

THE CREATION OF FURNITURE

Table ajustable

Eileen Gray, Adjustable table, 1926-1929
Lacquered tubular steel structure
Transparent circular tray in cellulose acetate
Adjustable height

Fauteuil transat

Eileen Gray, Transat armchair, 1926-1929
Structure in varnished sycamore with nickel-plated steel assembly parts, seat in synthetic black leather, swivel headrest Adjustable height
Furniture from E 1027, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
Center Pompidou, Mnam-Cci, Paris
Photos Jean-Claude Planchet-Center Pompidou, Mnam-Cci / Dist RMN-GP - Dr

Among the objects presented in the Jean Désert gallery are certain pieces of furniture, including prototypes in metal tubes. The first prototype of the Adjustable Table was developed by Eileen Gray in 1925. Its tubular steel structure, lightness and flexibility make it an icon of modern furniture. Eileen Gray will use it in villa E1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin as well as in her own apartment on rue Bonaparte in Paris.

Designed in 1924, the Transat armchair, an invitation to travel and a reference to the modernity of the transatlantic liner, consists of a seat suspended on a geometric wooden structure. A joint allows the headrest to follow the movements and needs of the user's body. It will be exceptionally available in twelve versions, combining several materials (blond sycamore and black leather, black lacquered wood and celadon green coated canvas or even black lacquered wood and natural leather). One will join in particular the room of the Maharajah of Indore fitted out by the German architect Eckart Muthesius. The Transat armchair is also present in the living room of villa E 1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

INTERIOR FITTINGS

Through her various creations, as we have seen, Eileen Gray tends towards a global conception of space. She demonstrated this in 1919 when, following an order, she undertook the renovation of Ms. Mathieu Levy's apartment, at 9 rue Lota. Panels and screens, hangings, carpets and lacquered furniture combine to create a universe steeped in exoticism and mystery. Dragon armchair, Pirogue lounge chair, Egyptian bed, starry ceiling and many other surprising elements coexist with elegance and harmony in this first interior design that Eileen Gray manages entirely on her own.

Eileen Gray, Une chambre à coucher boudoir pour Monte-Carlo

Eileen Gray, A boudoir bedroom for Monte-Carlo
exhibited at the Salon of the Society of Decorative Artists, Paris, 1923
Courtesy archives Gilles Peyroulet, Paris - Dr

From 1922, the Jean Désert gallery also offered its services in decoration and interior design. In 1923, Eileen Gray presented at the Salon of the Society of Decorative Artists A boudoir bedroom for Monte-Carlo. Here, the artist testifies to a real concern for conceptual unity, articulating, around his explorations, a search for comfort and flexibility of space. Two white brick screens frame a lacquered bed, a side table is placed on a carpet called Black magic, an office area and a corner with a dressing table, both elegantly furnished, complete the set. The major piece of the arrangement of this boudoir is, without doubt, the large red lacquered panel adorned with white and gold abstract shapes, which dominates the entire composition.

Arousing rather negative criticism from the French specialized press, it was significantly among the Dutch artists and architects of the De Stijl movement (JJP Oud and Jan Wils in particular) that she found a positive echo (she created little after a table named De Stijl in homage to their research.) Eileen Gray's work, with its exotic and dreamlike forays, does not correspond to the canons of modern decorative art as stated by critics at the time. Only Pierre Chareau, in France, is interested in his work and invites him, following the show, to contribute to one of his exhibition projects. It is, ultimately, by taking charge of the architectural projects themselves, that Eileen Gray will achieve her interior design goals. Villa E 1027 will thus be his major work.

VILLA E 1027: A UNIQUE CASE

LA VILLA E 1027

Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici - View of villa E 1027 from the sea, sd
Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici - E 1027, living room
Visible are the Transat armchair, a carpet and a wall composition, The Invitation to Travel
Center Pompidou, Kandinsky Library, Paris - Fonds Eileen Gray [Guy Carrard] -Dr

LA VILLA E 1027 - intérieur

E for Eileen, 10 for J (tenth letter of the alphabet and initial of Jean), 2 for the B of Badovici, and 7 for the G of Gray… Thus was born the name E 1027 of the villa built in Roquebrune-Cap -Martin between 1926 and 1929. This enigmatic code name symbolizes the close partnership, difficult to decipher, between Eileen Gray and the Romanian architect Jean Badovici, at work in the design of this house.
Intended for Jean Badovici himself, the villa responds to the following project: “a holiday home […] for a man who likes work, sports and likes to receive his friends. "(Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici," Description ", E 1027. Maison en bord de mer, special issue of L'Architecture vivante, Paris, ed. Albert Morancé, 1929; republished: Marseille, ed. Imbernon, 2006, p. 16.)

A living room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a winter kitchen and a summer kitchen… The program is minimum. The composition follows. The vertical axis of the spiral staircase is articulated with the horizontal planes of the two levels of accommodation and of the terrace. Built on a level plot above the sea, the villa, entirely facing the waves, is integrated into a global conception of the landscape which allows the occupants to follow the course of the sun.
Responding to the five points of modern architecture with its stilts, its roof terrace, the free plan, the banded windows and the free facade, the villa however takes the opposite view of a certain vision, machinist, of modernity . Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici indeed wish to give a soul to their architecture, assimilating it to a living organism and implementing an approach that appeals to the senses as much as to the mind. Perhaps the inscriptions scattered on the walls bear witness to this: "Beau temps", "The invitation to travel", "Enter slowly", "No laughing", "Forbidden meaning", "Hats", "Pillows", " Pajamas ”, etc.
According to them, man must be able to find in architecture “the joy of feeling himself, as in a whole which extends and completes it. "

TEMPE A PAILLA, "THE OTHER HOUSE"

Eileen Gray, Tempe a Pailla

Eileen Gray, Tempe a Pailla

After E 1027, Eileen Gray embarked on a new architectural project: the design of her own house, Tempe a Pailla ("time to yawn"), on the hillsides overlooking the city of Menton. The work began in 1934 and did not exceed one year. Subtle combination of modern architecture and vernacular elements, the house fits with great elegance into the landscape. Above a stone base anchored in the rocky ground, the white surfaces with clean geometric lines play with the sunlight. The facade overlooking the road is designed as a perimeter wall, but it is pierced in height with openings that let in light while providing panoramic views of the surroundings.
The wooden louvered shutters, used here by Eileen Gray to filter sunlight, protect people from view and play with the limits between the interior and the exterior, will hold the interest of Le Corbusier who suggests that he exhibit them in the Pavilion of new times presented at the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques of 1937.

 

Designed as a total work of art, the house is fully furnished by Eileen Gray herself. The modular and multi-functional furniture - Trouser cabinet, stool-stool-towel holder, etc. -, largely made up of prototypes, is an integral part of the architecture, with certain elements only existing in relation to it.
Tempe a Pailla, the only project that Eileen Gray draws entirely on her own, unfortunately very quickly undergoes significant degradation: occupied, weakened by the bombardments, she comes out of the Second World War very damaged and emptied of all its furniture. Eileen Gray embarked on an ambitious restoration project in 1946, but ended up selling it ten years later to the painter Graham Sutherland.

For her third and last architectural achievement, that of her Lou Pérou vacation home, the intervention of Eileen Gray, then 74 years old, was extremely modest. Restaurant an old building in the heart of a vineyard south of Saint-Tropez, it gives way to the vernacular, here mainly concerned with meeting its own needs with simplicity and sobriety.

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