Eileen Gray, a woman of true passion, self propelling energy and a visionary mind. A shy Anglo-Irish lady of private means she died aged 98 in 1976. Having made her home in turn of the century Paris, Rue Bonaparte, she stayed, bar the war and THE villa on the Cote d’Azure. A creator whose relatively slim body of work is so exceptional she has become recognised as a great modernist pioneer. Her design journey continually challenged and redefined the essential construction elements within design and their visual relationships. Viewed now it seems she helped forge the accepted lens through which we view the aesthetics of modern design itself. So on all levels I thought I’d better see the Eileen Gray exhibition which transferred from Centre Pompidou to Dublin.
Eileen Gray was an aesthete’s choice until the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé auction at Christies in 2009 where her “Dragon Chair” sold for $28.3 million, becoming the most expensive 20th century design piece EVER and catapulting Miss Gray into the media spotlight.
here it is in YSL situ.
The funny thing is I reckon Eileen became well and truly ‘OVER’ her dragon chair, viewing it as part of a body of early work more concerned with decorative fantasy rather than the creative modernism which consumed her. Her favourite was possibly the ‘trasnat chair’, an abbreviation of ‘transatlantic’, designed to be used at her villa beside the sea, which itself was inspired by the idea of a boat caught in the cliff face, there were only 12 chairs made:
Here it is next to her adjustable E1027 side table so ubiquitous in modern ‘design’ stores today. They are both sheer brilliance. It’s clear Corbusier felt Eileen Gray had one over him, he fantasised about her Roquebrune house to the extent he built above it and painted over it internally, ironically the act which she keenly felt as desecration is what preserved her villa while prosperity caught up with the woman it had overlooked. Now a major restoration is under way.
Eileen between Corbusier and her lover Badovici.
Eileen Gray’s life is both inspirational and an example of the quiet one who shone brilliantly but quietly unnoticed, I wonder what she would make of all the fuss now? They have an interview with her age 96, 97? she can’t care enough to remember, chez Rue Bonaparte and there she is elegant, articulate and with a short frizz of plum-dyed hair.
Whoever she did share her life’s journey and inner soul with was very privileged, I love how her thoughts overflow her notepaper:
Miss Gray defies standard definitions because she operated outside the norms, in her own value structure, charting a difficult, uncharted terrain which in its wake has created a smoother path with acceptance on either side, for which females, including my daughter, who I took to the exhibition should be inspired by.