Eileen Gray

The Centre Pompidou , The Marais Saturday March 2 2013 11:00 - 22:00
  • 3 out of 5 stars
'Fauteuil Bibendum', c.1930 / © Photo : Monsieur Christian Baraja, Studio SLB
'Paravent en briques', 1919-1922 / © Photo : Vallois-Paris-Arnaud Carpentier
'Table aux chars', c. 1915 / © Photo : Vallois-Paris-Arnaud Carpentier
'Console', 1918-1920 / © Photo : Monsieur Christian Baraja, Studio SLB
'Table ajustable', c. 1926-1929 / © Centre Pompidou / Dist.RMN-GP / © DR
Eileen Gray et Jean Badovici, 'Villa E 1027', vue du salon / Centre Pompidou, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, fonds Eileen Gray / Photo : Alan Irvine
'Cabinet à tiroirs pivotants', 1926-1929 / © Centre Pompidou / Photo : Jean-Claude Planchet / © DR
'Coiffeuse-paravent', 1926-1929 / © Centre Pompidou / Dist.RMN-GP / © DR
'Fauteuil Transat', 1926-1929 / © Centre Pompidou / Dist.RMN-GP / © DR

Neither a design lesson nor a tedious biography of the enigmatic Eileen Gray, this exhibition has been created in the image of the artist that it honours: discreet, modest and overflowing with personal creations. Here, it’s no more nor less than a woman’s free and unique talent that is being showcased, almost independently of all artistic, historic or personal context: and this could be the most natural way of accessing the work of this unclassifiable and secretive Irish aristocrat, who since her ‘rediscovery’ in 1972 (after a furniture sale by Jacques Doucet, one of her most faithful collectors) has been hailed as of the sacred giants of modern architecture.

Miss Gray was one of those avant-garde women who wore trousers and broke into a man’s world with their creative flair. A self-made woman and multitalented designer, she spent a good portion of her long (1878-1976) life in France – after her studies at London’s Slade school of art, she moved to Paris in 1902 where she learned (in the studio of Seizo Sugawara) to create futuristic furniture in lacquer, and to insinuate into her screens, tables and lamps the oblique lines that prefigured modernism. Anti-conformist and jack of all trades, she wasted no time in opening her own gallery (under the pseudonym of Jean Désert, as the phallocratic society of the 1920s required), in making carpets with the airs of abstract canvases, and in getting closer and closer to cabinet-making and chrome, increasing her daring while cultivating a more and more austere style. In the Pompidou exhibition, sketches and furniture punctuate the major stages of her career in a well-orchestrated layout that leads the viewer quickly to her architectural works: the Villa E 1027 at Roquebrune (created with the Romanian Jean Badovici) and her own house, Tempe a Pailla, in the heights of Menton.

If she bloomed fully in the geometric simplicity of the Corbusier school (they were friends until he adulterated the Villa E 1027 by painting colourful frescoes onto the walls without her permission), throughout her long career Eileen Gray never stopped juggling between the strict lines of the architecture of her age and a more human, traditional softness. To the rigidity of the straitjacket,, she preferred the eternal promise of metamorphosis. Pliable chairs, mobile screens, ‘seat-stepladder-towel-rails’, drawers that transformed the contours of a chest by opening in a fan shape, each piece is unique (she never created a single industrial piece, only prototypes). At the Centre Pompidou, slides, maquettes and photos of interiors reproduced as wallpaper (the apartment on the Rue Bonaparte, the salon of the Villa E 1027), allow us to view the furniture in context: the result is dynamic, fluid and alive. And if you learn little about Gray as a person and her place in the history of design, you experience the incredible originality of a woman who remains underappreciated, and who utterly deserves her reputation as an intrepid adventurer in modernity.

Opening hours: Daily 11am-9pm (closed Tue)

Venue name: The Centre Pompidou
Address: Rue Saint-Martin

Opening hours: 11am-9pm (last entry 8pm) Mon, Wed-Sun (until 11pm some exhibitions)
Price: €9-€13