Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray 'Brick' black lacquer screen
Eileen Gray 'Brick' black lacquer screen

While today’s post has nothing to do with silver. I decided a story about a piece of furniture by an Irish designer called Eileen selling for €1.3 million was worthy of some attention!

The Eileen I’m a referring to is Irish born designer Eileen Gray (1878- 1976), who is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in modern design. The piece (above) which sold in Paris yesterday was a black lacquered screen panel and was one of her pieces from her Paris apartment. This screen was made between 1923-25 and is one of fifteen items of Gray’s which are up for auction this week.

Dragon Chair, Eileen Gray
Dragon Chair, Eileen Gray

This isn’t the first time that Gray’s work has fetched record prices in auction. In 2009 her ‘Dragons’ armchair sold in Paris for an very impressive €21.9 million, making it the worlds most expensive chair. Also setting an auction record for 20th century decorative art.This price may be due in part to it’s previous owner Yves Saint Laurent.

Eileen Gray was born in Enniscorthy Co. Wexford where she lived until she moved to London to attend Slade School of Fine Art. She was one of the first women to be admitted to the Art College. In 1902 she moved to Paris where she continued her studies. It was in Paris that she met Seizo Sugawara a Japanese lacquer master. She worked with him for four years developing her skills in lacquer work. She didn’t exhibit her lacquer pieces until much later but when she did they were a success. This work quickly established Gray as one of the leading designers of lacquered screens and decorative panels.

E-1027, Eileen Gray
E-1027, Eileen Gray

Throughout the 20’s and 30’s she was seen as one of the leading figures in modern design and worked closely with many of the famous designers in the modern movement including Le Corbusier. She did not limit herself to lacquer design but also began designing furniture and houses. Her most famous architectural work is E-1027 which she designed as her summer house but also to showcase her modern aesthetic and furniture.

Table, Eileen Gray
Table, Eileen Gray

Gray may only make headlines these days for the prices her work sells for but her influence is still everywhere. Her tubular steel adjustable table pops up in TV programs and magazines displaying a modern interiors. This says  a lot for her forward thinking approach to design considering this table was made in the 1920’s.

If you want to see more of Eileen Gray’s beautiful work as well as examples of her lacquering tools and family photos you should go along to the National Museum in Collins Barracks, Dublin. In 2002 the museum purchased her archive and they now have a permanent exhibition which chronicles her career. It’s great to have such an amazing resource kept in the country. I’d definitely recommend a visit and while you’re there you should take a look at their collection of Irish silver.

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