Out On Display #2: Eileen Gray, Avant-Garde Designer

Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass
September 8, 2014

ScreenEileen Gray screen

Eileen Gray

France (Paris), wood with lacquer, c.1928


On display in room 135


Born into an aristocratic Irish family, the designer and architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976) lived an unconventional life compared to most women of her time and class. Initially training as a paintre, it was Gray’s visit to the Paris Exposition of 1900 that first sparked her passion for lacquerwork. By 1906, Gray had apprenticed herself to Seizo Sugawara, a Japanese lacquer master living in Paris.


It was not until her forties that Gray achieved widespread recognition. Her first commission, a Parisian apartment for which she designed now-iconic pieces such as the Bibendum chair, was a critical success, enabling her to open a gallery in 1922. This screen is typical of her aesthetic: minimal and Japanese-inspired.


Living in the avant garde of 1920s Paris, Gray – who was bisexual – was a notable member of Natalie Barney’s feminist salon. Barney, an American expatriate and lesbian, reigned over a circle which included the painter Romaine Brooks and the left-wing writer Elisabeth de Gramont. After World War Two, Grey’s works faded into obscurity, but enjoyed a rediscovery in the 1960s.


About the author

Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass
September 8, 2014

I'm an assistant curator working between the Sculpture and Prints departments; looking mainly at 18th century material. I look at the relationships between sculpture and printmaking, and the place of...

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