Eileen Gray (b. 1878–d. 1976), is an Angle-Irish architect and designer of furniture, carpets, and textiles who became known in avant-garde artistic circles in Paris during the 1910s for adapting traditional Japanese lacquer techniques to her contemporary furniture designs. She was born Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland. The family name was changed to Gray in 1895, when her mother inherited the title of Baroness Gray, and her father adopted the name Smith-Gray. Gray was studying painting at the Slade School of Fine Arts in 1901 when she began to experiment with oriental lacquer techniques in the London workshop of Dean Charles. The following year she moved to Paris to study drawing at the Académie Colarossi and the Académie Julian. After Gray purchased her apartment in the rue Bonaparte in 1907, she began to collaborate with the Japanese lacquer artisan Seizo Sugawara (b. 1884–d. 1937). This culminated in the establishment of two venues that formed the basis for Gray’s decorative arts production: her lacquer workshop in the rue Guénégaud with Sugawara and her weaving workshop in the rue Visconti with Evelyn Wyld (b. 1882–d. 1973), both in 1910. During the early 1920s Gray began to practice architecture in collaboration with the Romanian architect Jean Badovici (b. 1893–d. 1956), and a decade later she began working independently. A graduate of the École spéciale d’architecture in Paris, Badovici was editor of the avant-garde journal L’Architecture Vivante (1923–1933). Their collaboration may have begun in 1922, when Gray opened a shop in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, which she named Jean Désert, to display her furniture, fabrics, and carpets. Sketches in Gray’s hand indicate her ideas for the design, while Badovici was most likely responsible for the extant architectural drawing. Although the precise nature of their collaboration cannot be determined, Gray played a major role in several further undertakings, including the house E1027 in Roquebrune-Cap Martin (1926–1929), which she created for and with Badovici and for which she is best known. Sketches in Gray’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, for Badovici’s projects in Vézelay—the Renaudin house (1926–1931), the Badovici house (1927–1931), and artists’ housing (1927–1932)—provide evidence of her possible participation in these endeavors as well. Gray was independently responsible for Badovici’s studio apartment in the rue Chateaubriand in Paris (1930–1931) and two houses for herself in the south of France: Tempe a Pailla near Castellar (1931–1935) and Lou Pérou outside Saint Tropez (1954–1961). Throughout her life Gray continued to develop furniture designs and architectural proposals—some for private clients and others as hypothetical exercises, including most notably a Vacation Center (1936–1937) and a Cultural and Leisure Center (1947–1947).
The first comprehensive synopsis of Gray’s career is found in Loye 1984. Peter Adam’s biography (Adam 1987), although lacking in a scholarly understanding of Gray’s design work, provided an important starting point for subsequent accounts in Garner 1993, Constant 2000, and Goff 2015, among others.
Adam, Peter. Eileen Gray: Architect/Designer. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987.
This often-cited biography of Eileen Gray, based on Adam’s personal acquaintance with Gray, is constrained by the author’s limited understanding of contemporary decorative arts and architecture, a lack of footnotes, and numerous factual errors.
Adam, Peter. Eileen Gray Architect/Designer: A Biography. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.
Adam refined his argument in this and subsequent expanded versions of his biography.
Adam, Peter. Eileen Gray: Her Life and Work. London: Thames and Hudson, 2019.
This is the last of Peter Adam’s expanded versions of his biography of Eileen Gray.
Constant, Caroline. Eileen Gray. London: Phaidon, 2000.
Gray’s contributions to the decorative arts and architecture are analyzed in relation to the cultural contexts in which she was working. Constant details the evolution of Gray’s architectural production, beginning with her concept for her Galerie Jean Désert (1922) and concluding with her final house, Lou Pérou outside Saint Tropez (1954–1961). The book includes a catalogue raisonné of forty-six architectural projects, a translation of the text in “Maison en Bord de Mer,” and a brief bibliography.
Garner, Philippe. Eileen Gray: Design and Architecture, 1878–1976. Cologne: Benedikt Taschen, 1993.
Garner’s professional affiliation with Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses led him to focus on Gray’s work in the decorative arts and furniture design along with selected examples of her architecture (E1027, Tempe a Pailla, and Badovici apartment). These are followed by a brief chronology, and bibliography. Relying extensively on Peter Adam’s biography, Garner includes no citations of sources.
Goff, Jennifer. Eileen Gray: Her Work and Her World. Salinns, Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 2015.
Goff’s comprehensive biography is grounded in the substantive archival material that the National Museum of Ireland acquired from Peter Adam. Drawing on her close reading of the contents of Gray’s library as well as broader archival research, Goff offers significant insights into Gray’s circle of acquaintances, her diverse artistic endeavors (paintings, drawings, collages), her furniture and carpet designs, and Le Corbusier’s possible role as a mentor in her early architectural production.
Loye, Brigitte. Eileen Gray: 1879–1976: Architecture Design. Paris: Analeph/J.P. Viguier, 1984.
In this early scholarly examination of Gray’s work in the decorative arts and architecture, Loye analyzes Gray’s choreographic approach to modern architecture and furnishings, which is grounded in bodily engagement with her designs, by elaborating on the cultural context in which she was working, her production in the decorative arts, and several examples of her architectural production. The text includes an inventory of Gray’s furniture designs, exhibitions, and a selected bibliography.
Müller, Christian, and Stefan Hecker. Eileen Gray: Works and Projects. Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 1993.
Part of a series on notable 20th-century architects, this booklet consists of a set of brief introductions to the various aspects of Gray’s career, with particular attention to her conjectural architectural proposals and built work. These are illustrated by photographs and drawings from Gray’s archive at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Rault, Jasmine. Eileen Gray and the Design of Sapphic Modernity: Staying In. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.
Relying heavily on Adam 1987, Adam 2000, Colomina 1993 (cited under Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier), and Constant 1996 (cited under Conjectural Civic Proposals), Rault draws on feminist and queer theory to address the role of sexuality in Eileen Gray’s work. Despite the potential merits of this approach, the argument is marred by a reliance on secondary sources of varying quality, innumerable historical inaccuracies, and a propensity to adapt historical material to fit her premise.
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