Osborne Samuel gallery is pleased to announce the first UK exhibition of paintings by the Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray (1878 - 1976). A leading pioneer of Modernist design, she is widely regarded as one of the most influential architects and designers of the 20th century. The exhibition will feature over 60 paintings and photographs from the 1920s - 1960 that will be for sale, and will include some of the artist’s personal ephemera and letters.
The exhibition coincides with the launch of a new book titled Eileen Gray: The Private Painter, which will provide a comprehensive overview of Eileen Gray’s life. The book has been compiled and written by Andrew Lambirth, and features a personal memoir by Gray’s longstanding friend and biographer Peter Adam, and a foreword by Gordon Samuel. It is copublished by Lund Humphries Publishing, London and Osborne Samuel gallery.
The youngest of five children, Eileen Gray was born Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith, near Enniscorthy, Ireland, on 9 August 1878. After her father’s death in 1900, Eileen, accompanied by her mother, Baroness Gray, visited the L’Exposition Universelle and thus began her love of Paris. In the same year she and her mother moved to the family’s South Kensington townhouse which became their base. She attended the Slade School of Art in 1902 where among her contemporaries were Wyndham Lewis, Jessica Dismorr and Cuthbert Hamilton. Unimpressed by the Slade’s teaching she went to Paris in 1903 and attended art courses at Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi. Her first major interior design commission for Mme Mathieu Lévy’s home on Rue de Lota in Paris, was regarded as one of the most sensational examples of interior design and architecture of the 1920s.
Gray’s paintings in gouache or mixed media were a private pastime, to help her overcome the stress and aggravations that came with her work. The paintings date between 1920s and 1960s and include some Cubist inspired designs for her carpets. One of these works, Untitled (Red Form) from 1960, is a joint composition with her niece, the painter Prunella Clough. Cage (1940) uses the motif of the cage which became a device used by Francis Bacon and Graham Sutherland later in the century. The exhibition will also include various photographs produced by Gray throughout her career, including striking monochrome compositions such as the Tablescape compositions (1920).
To compliment these private works, the exhibition will also include Gray’s personal effects and furniture. This will include Gray’s paintsplattered architect’s work table, and the artist’s own plan chest designed and made in 1926, that she kept in her workroom in the her apartment at 21 rue Bonaparte, Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Other ephemera includes objects that decorated Gray’s apartment. This includes a Greek stone torso, a blue circular vase, a large pebble she found that reminded her of a Brancusi sculpture, an African sculpture on a lacquer base and two ceramic bowls. The exhibition will also include her chrome cigarette case, and her initialled compact case and monocle holder.
Personal stationery items will feature in the exhibition, including letters from family and friends, as well as several portraits of the artist herself. These include a letter to her niece Prunella Clough, and invitations to exhibitions at her ‘Jean Desert’ gallery that she opened in 1922 in rue du Faubourg.
The exhibition will include various portraits, including a locket with a photograph of her father James MacLaren Smith, a Scottish landscape painter, and two portraits of the artist taken in 1926 by the celebrated American photographer, Berenice Abbott. Another exhibit is a portrait of Gray c.1936 in watercolour by her Slade contemporary and friend, Wyndham Lewis titled ‘1902 Portrait of a Lady with a French Poodle’, and a watercolour given to her by another friend, Le Corbusier.
Gray faded somewhat into obscurity until 1972, when the fashion designer Yves St Laurent bought Gray’s ‘Dragon Chair’ and the famous ‘Le Destin’ screen, which ignited renewed interest in the designer’s works. Gray’s rediscovery led to major exhibitions; in 1972 at the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Heinz Gallery; London’s Design Museum in 1992 and 2005 and at the Centre Pompidou and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 2013. Gray’s works command strong prices at sale; In February 2009, at the sale of Yves St Laurent’s personal effects, the ‘Dragon chair’ fetched an astonishing $28,000,000, and in the same sale a lacquer console table by Gray fetched $3,000,000.