Historic UK exhibit of Eileen Gray art

By Jim Hayes

Published 14/07/2015 | 00:00

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THE first ever UK exibition of the paintings of Eileen Gray - the internationally famous furniture designer and architect born in County Wexford - will be staged at Mayfair in London later this year.

Over 60 paintings and photographers from the 1920s to 1960s will feature in the exhibition and all will be up for sale. The display at the Osborne Samuel gallery from October 13 to November 7 will also include some of the artist's personal ephemera and letters.

Enniscorthy-born Gray, who died in Paris in 1976, aged 98, was a leading pioneer of Modernist design, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential architects and designers of the 20th century.

The exhibition will coincide with the launch of a new book 'Eileen Gray: The Private Painter', which will provide a comprehensive overview of her life. Compiled and written by Andrew Lambirth, it features a personal memoir by Gray's longstanding friend and biographer Peter Adam.

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 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 the striking, monochrome Tablescape compositions (1920).

To complement these private works, the exhibition will feature some of Eileen Gray's personal effects and furniture, including her paint-splattered architect's work table, and the artist's own plan chest designed and made in 1926, that she kept in her workroom in her apartment at 21 rue Bonaparte, Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Also on display will be objects that decorated Gray's apartment, including 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 include letters to and from family and friends.

The exhibition will include various portraits, including a locket with a photograph of Gray's father, James MacLaren Smith, the 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 her friend, the pioneering architect Le Corbusier.

Gray's works command strong prices. In February 2009, at the sale of Yves St Laurent's personal effects, her 'Dragon chair' fetched an astonishing $28,000,000, and in the same sale a lacquer console table by Gray fetched $3,000,000.

The UK exhibition comes at a time when Eileen Gray is rarely out of the public eye. 'The Price of Desire' , a new film portraying her life, opened in March, and her iconic, restored French Riviera villa, E1027, opened to the public in June.

Wexford People

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