Eileen Gray (1879–1976)
Made by galerie Jean Désert
Sycamore frame with chromium-plated mounts and fixtures, leather upholstery
79 x 55 x 98cm
Museum no. CIRC.578–1971
The Irish designer Eileen Gray had a glittering career behind her in Paris as an Art Deco designer when she began to take an interest in Modernism, around 1925. Her young Romanian friend Jean Badovici introduced her to the work of Le Corbusier and other Modernists and helped her with a number of architectural commissions, including the house they shared in Roquebrune (1925–9). Gray admired Le Corbusier, who gave her a set of his architectural drawings, but retained an acute and critical eye of her own.
The so-called ‘Transat’ armchair was beautifully made of sycamore with metal fixtures, evoking the elegant craft of the ship chandler. Several prototypes exist, but it was to be a long time before it was manufactured commercially. The principle was that of a suspended loop of leather upholstered material, with a headpiece that could pivot to suit the posture of the sitter. Some versions use an upholstered sling of leather for the seat, like a deckchair, indicating that one of the sources of inspiration was the ocean-liner deckchair. Although Gray used chromed joints and connecting rods to allow for the use of straight sections of wood – simplifying manufacture and enabling the chair to be taken to pieces – the two side frames are expertly mortised in a way that could be industrially produced only with difficulty.