Bringing Eileen Gray into the light
There are marvellous balsa-wood models of all three of the houses associated with Gray (the third was a renovation and extension on a house called Lou Pérou, near Saint-Tropez, which she embarked on at 76). The models, made by students at the University of Florida, are from the Irish Architecture Foundation’s collection.
Inevitably, there is reference to Le Corbusier’s unilateral decision to paint murals on the walls of E-1027, both inside and out, in 1937. Gray knew Corbusier, of course, but she was incensed by his arrogance. He built his own “cabin” alongside the villa she designed with Badovici. He died while swimming there in 1965.
The exhibition includes a remarkable portfolio of Gray’s later architectural projects that were, sadly, never built, such as a holiday centre, an ellipse house and even a proposed design for a theatre for staging ancient Irish epics. It ends with a charming four-minute clip from a filmed interview she gave towards the end of her life.
President Michael D Higgins, who officially opened the exhibition last Monday, described it as “magnificent and evocative”, saying that at last we had found “the rightful place of Eileen Gray”. With half a million visitors expected to see it over the next three months, there is no doubt she has been rescued from relative obscurity.
At first acclaimed by the avant-garde critics in the 1920s, as Pitiot notes, Gray had “sunk into oblivion to rise again, in 1968, under the pen of the historian Joseph Rykwert, who restores her to her former glory in the magazine Domus”.
After that, much of her furniture and other work was mercifully (and profitably) saved for posterity.
About a quarter of Gray’s works are now preserved in museum collections, including the archives held by the National Museum of Ireland, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The remaining three- quarters, mainly lacquerwork and furniture sold at Galerie Jean Désert, are owned by private collectors.
Unique among the private lenders for the Pompidou exhibition, bookmaker and international art connoisseur Joe Donnelly and his wife Marie, a former chairwoman of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, bravely allowed their names to be cited in the catalogue for their wonderful collection of two lacquered wooden boxes, a floor lamp and a cabinet.
Inevitably, their value will be boosted by the Pompidou’s homage to Gray. There are plans to stage it in Dublin this autumn at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, but this is likely to be on a much smaller scale, with only some of the exhibits travelling.
* Eileen Gray is at the Pompidou Centre, Paris until May 20th