I first heard about Eileen Gray (1878 – 1976) via Andrée Putman, the recently deceased interior designer. Andrée who pulled off glove-tight Alaïa dresses and towering Louboutin heels like no one else – talk about dynamic and determined – drew public attention to Gray’s work in the late 1970s. As is often the case, the Irish-born Gray who was an icon of modernist design during the 1920s fell into oblivion. Shocking to reveal but when she died and her apartment on the rue Bonaparte was emptied, Gray’s custom-made furniture was left on the pavement. Neglected "furniture" that now reaches extortionate auction prices. For instance, at the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale in 2009, Gray’s ‘Dragons chair’ went for a cool €21 million.
"Shockingly, when she died and her apartment was emptied, Gray’s custom-made furniture was left on the pavement"
So almost forty years after Gray’s demise and, oddly enough, a month after Putman’s much-regretted departure, the Centre Pompidou have organised a retrospective. And I’m thrilled to report that the exhibition is both aspirational and thorough. It’s all there from Gray’s discovery of lacquerwork and her relationship with the Japanese craftsman Seizo Sugarwara that began in Paris to the opening of her Galerie Jean Désert which was dedicated to art and luxury to the creation of the Villa E 1027 with the Romanian architect Jean Badovici that led to her ultimate fallout with Le Corbusier. (The jealous genius added murals, which Gray felt vandalized the place’s purity – she was right, they do.) Naturally, there are samples of her work such as the transat armchair and adjustable table as well as a delightful interview with the 90-year-old Gray. It’s the sort of show that should be seen several times. On a personal note, it illustrates and reminds how the Parisian museums truly respect the foreign artist. And bless their silk socks for that.
Eileen Gray is currently showing at the Centre Pompidou and runs until May 20.
Text by Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni
Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni is a Paris-based British writer who covers fashion and lifestyle as well as being the author of Sam Spiegel – The Biography of A Hollywood Legend, Understanding Chic, an essay from the Paris Was Ours anthology, the soon-to-be released Tino Zervudachi – A Portfolio – as well as the Chanel book, for Assouline's fashion series.
Robert Beck is former New Yorker currently based in Paris. Also known as C.J. Rabbitt, he is the author and illustrator of several children's books, including The Tale of Rabbitt in Paradise, Un Lapin à Paris and the soon-to-be-published A Bunny in the Ballet.