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

W.40-1977

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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