Door 6: Eileen Gray

Contrary to Giorgio Morandi, Eileen Gray did not stick to a single style, not even a single trade and especially not a specific movement. Through her career that included furniture design, architecture, and painting she can be seen as a chameleon, shaping stylistically the major design movements of the 20th century, namely Art Deco and the Modernist movement.

Paravent "Le Destin" (1914)

Born as Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith in 1878 into an aristocratic family on her mother's side in Ireland, she spent her formative years in London. There she was one of the first women to study fine arts at the Slade School. In 1902 she moved to Paris where her interest in lacquer work was deepened. Together with the Japanese lacquer Seizo Sugarawa she opened up a workshop in 1912, where they worked on commissions for their Parisian clientele.

Glass Salon for Madame Mathieu-Levy (1922)

From this period Dragons armchair, seen in the picture at back left, set a auction sales record reaching nearly €22 million in 2009, sold at the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé auction. Step by step she was also more and more in demand for interior works, furnishing apartments and houses. She did so wholesomely as she designed furniture that could be constantly reconfigured and changed around, having multiple purposes. Famous are her Bibendum chair, a reference to the Michelin Man, or the adjustable table E1027.

Perhaps through her lover Jean Badovici, an architect, but also personal interest, she became an autodidact architect, studying books and accompanying Badovici to sites. She famously built for them the house E-1027 between 1926 and 1929 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, near Monaco. This house is seen as one of the first modernist homes, following LeCorbusier's open plan structure. The later stayed there often and infamously "vandalized" the blank walls with his paintings. After the break up with Jean Badovici she set out in 1932 to build another house, not far away from the first one, near Menton entitled Tempe à Pailla, meaning time in the hay.

Villa E-1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

During and after the second world war the interest in her work slightly decreased and her work in general got recognized late. An article by the historian Joseph Rykwert about her published in the infamous Domus magazine and the work of furniture dealer Zeev Aram helped there. In the early 1970s she was also honored with two retrospectives in London and Dublin. She died in 1976 in Paris.