National Museum acquires Eileen Gray's Paris collection


The National Museum of Ireland has scored one of its greatest coups by beating the Pompidou Centre in Paris to acquire a major collection by the hugely influential Irish-born designer, Eileen Gray.

Gray, who hailed from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, spent most of her life in France and was one of the most significant figures of the Modern Movement, particularly for her furniture designs.

In the first official recognition here of her international standing, the National Museum has acquired Gray's personal collection from her apartment in Paris, including furniture, models and personal effects.

The collection, on show last year in the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt, was seen by Mr Michael O'Doherty, principal architect at the Office of Public Works, who urged the National Museum to buy it.

It includes Gray's own copy of the famous chrome-and-glass side table designed for €1027, her iconic house at Rocquebrune on the Cote d'Azur which was so much admired by the modernist architect, Le Corbusier.

It also includes a monogrammed dressing gown, all of her lacquering tools, the Poiret dress she wore and even her make-up.

Carpets, chairs, tables, lacquered screens, frosted glass lanterns, prototypes, photographs, contemporary magazines which reviewed her work are in the collection bought by the National Museum for £900,000.

"We didn't have a stick of her furniture, so I took the view that we just had to acquire all these things that were designed, used and cherished by her," the museum's director, Dr Pat Wallace, told The Irish Times.

"We were very lucky to get it, too, because we gazumped, if you like, the Pompidou Centre," he said, adding that the Minister for Arts and Heritage, Ms de Valera, played a major role in securing the money. He also paid tribute to the art critic, Ms Dorothy Walker, for her support.

The collection was acquired from Mr Peter Adam, an art historian, who was Gray's friend and biographer. He holds copyright title to her photographs "but we're hoping to get them too", said Dr Wallace.

"For architects in Ireland, it's going to be the Book of Kells, on a par with Francis Bacon's studio at the Municipal Gallery, and it will form the core of a new 20th century collection in Collins Barracks," he said.

Some of the collection requires an amount of conservation work, so it is unlikely to go on public exhibition until next summer in a special Eileen Gray Gallery already being designed by the OPW.