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Eileen Gray


The first ever UK exhibition of the paintings of Eileen Gray opens in London this month. I was unaware until recently of this influential designer and architect, who was born into a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family in 1878 and died in Paris in 1976 and who should be better known. As the V&A website observes:

“As a designer and practitioner Gray was extremely unusual, not least because she was a woman operating on her own. .. [and she] was a designer who defied easy categorisation.”

Gray studied at the Slade and moved to Paris in 1902, a city where she was to spend most of her life. There she studied to become the first western practitioner of Japanese lacquer, and created lacquered screens, architectural panelling and furniture in the Art Deco style. She later set up a workshop to weave carpets to her designs, and a shop and gallery to sell the full range of her designs in furniture, carpets and lighting.

She then moved into architecture, encouraged by Le Corbusier and others, and designed two houses in southern France, one at Roquebrune (1926-1929) and the other at Castellar (1932-1934), along with the furniture for the houses.

Gray’s designs, including her famous Bibendum chair, the design of which was influenced by the then famous ‘Bibendum’ Michelin Man, are now licensed to Aram in the UK, and examples of her furniture, and more information about her can be found on their website devoted to her:

When Yves St Laurent’s ‘Dragon’ armchair, designed by Gray, was auctioned in Paris in 2009 it made £19.4 million making it the most expensive piece of 20th-century design to ever be auctioned.


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