Neglected for most of her career, Eileen Gray (1878-1976) is now regarded as one of the most important furniture designers and architects of the early 20th century and the most influential woman in those fields. Her work inspired both modernism and Art Deco.
Eileen Gray was to "stand alone" throughout her career, first as a lacquer artist, then as a furniture designer and finally as an architect. At a time when other leading designers were almost all male and mostly members of one movement or another - whether a loose grouping like De Stijl in the Netherlands, or a formal one such as the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne - she remained stalwartly independent.
Her design style was as distinctive as her way of working, and Gray developed an opulent, luxuriant take on the geometric forms and industrially produced materials used by the International Style designers, such as Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Mies Van Der Rohe, who shared many of her ideals. Her voluptuous leather and tubular steel Bibendum Chair and clinically chic E-1027 glass and tubular steel table are now as familiar as icons of the International Style as Le Corbusier and Perriand’s classic Grand Confort club chairs, yet for most of her career she was relegated to obscurity by the same proud singularity that makes her work so prized today.
Born in Enniscorthy, Ireland, she spent her childhood in London and was among the first women to be admitted to the Slade School of Art where she took up painting in 1898 before undergoing an apprenticeship in a lacquer workshop. She moved to Paris in 1902 where she quickly established herself as one of the leading designers of lacquered screens and decorative panels.
Her contribution to design and architecture began during the ‘20s and ‘30s, working closely with many of the outstanding figures of the modern movement, including Le Corbusier and JJP Oud. Eileen Gray designed two houses in the Alpes Maritimes, one at Roquebrune (built 1927-1929), the other at Castellar (built 1932-1934).
After the war and up to her death, she continued to work as a designer, on both major projects like the cultural and social center which occupied her from 1946-1947, and on a number of smaller furniture designs. In 1972 she was appointed a Royal Designer to Industry by the Royal Society of Art, London. In 1973 Eileen Gray signed a worldwide contract with Aram Designs, London, to bring her designs into production for the first time. The Museum of Modern Art added her legendary Adjustable Table E 1027 to its permanent design collection in 1978.
Source: Design Museum London