The Centre Pompidou in Paris has recently mounted a much-needed exhibition on the architect and designer Eileen Gray. Nearly forgotten in her lifetime and often misunderstood as an associate or collaborator of Le Corbusier, Gray was saved from obscurity late in her life by the critic Joseph Rykwert, whose essay “Un omaggio a Eileen Gray pioniera del design” (Domus 469, December 1968) introduced Gray and her work to a wider audience. (In this short article, Rykwert relates the story of how he learned about Gray from one of her relatives.) In the intervening decades, Gray’s reputation has grown steadily to the point that she is now considered a key (albeit still lesser-known) figure in the development of Modernism.

Though best known for her furniture, in particular her early work (including a chair that set a record at auction in 2009), Gray was an accomplished architect. In the late 1920s, she and her partner Jean Badovici designed E1027, commonly described as Gray’s most lasting contribution to the history of architecture. Set above the Mediterranean on the French Riviera, E1027 is a masterful example of architectural Modernism – a product of intense collaboration between two designers who were influenced by Le Corbusier’s developing theories but willing to call them into question. (E1027 is also the source of much confusion regarding Le Corbusier and Gray – the former painting murals and otherwise affecting the fabric of the house to Gray’s chagrin.*) Having fallen into disrepair over the years, the villa is currently undergoing extensive restoration and is set to be open to the public in the near future.

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Aside from the catalogue to the exhibition at the Centre Pompidou and a shorter selection of items from the show, the bibliography on Gray’s life and work is rather slim and much has gone out of print. We have a few items available as of the writing of this post, including the following:

E. 1027 – Maison en bord de mer

Eileen Gray 1879 – 1976: Architecture Design

Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray: Architect/Designer

Eileen Gray: Objects and Furniture Design

* The curious can even find an image of Le Corbusier painting a mural in E1027, naked as the day he was born, though we will resist the temptation to link it here.

(cb)

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