EILEEN GRAY (1878-1976)
EILEEN GRAY (1878-1976)
EILEEN GRAY (1878-1976)
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EILEEN GRAY (1878-1976)

A Unique and Important Stool, from her home, Tempe à Pailla, Castellar

EILEEN GRAY (1878-1976)
A Unique and Important Stool, from her home, Tempe à Pailla, Castellar
painted mahogany, painted steel, skaï with concentric stitched detail
underside with later plaque monogrammed with artist's initials EG
26 in. (66 cm.) high
Designed circa 1932-1934.
Eileen Gray.
Thence by descent to Prunella Clough (niece of the designer).
Sotheby's Parke-Bernet, Monte Carlo, Collection Eileen Gray: Mobilier, objets et projets de sa creation, 25 May 1980, lot 277.
Private Collection, Europe, acquired from the above.
Private Collection, Europe.
Sotheby’s, London, 2 March 1999, lot 44.
Michael and Gabrielle Boyd, USA, acquired from the above.
P. Adam, Eileen Gray Architect / Designer, New York, 1978, pp. 228, 226, 281 for a period illustration and images of the stool in situ, p. 384, cat. 65.2 for the catalogue raisonné reference.
J. Stewart Johnson, Eileen Gray: Designer, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1979, pg. 56 for a period illustration of this example in situ.
C. Constant, W. Wang, Eileen Gray, An architect for all senses, Frankfurt am Main, 1996, pp. 57, 144, for a period illustration and an image of the stool in situ.
F. Baudot, Eileen Gray, Paris, 1998, pp. 71, 79, this example illustrated.
C. Constant, Eileen Gray, London, 2000, p. 151 for a period illustration of the stool in situ.
M. Webb, Modernist Paradise: Niemeyer House * Boyd Collection, New York, 2007, pp. 101, 134-135 for images of the stool in situ.
C. Pitiot, Eileen Gray, exh. cat., Paris, 2013, p. 113 for a period illustration of this example in situ; also p. 189 for variant with frontal paired support rods.
J. Goff, Eileen Gray, Her life and her work, Dublin, 2015, p. 295 for a period illustration of this example in situ.
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Eileen Gray, London, 24 January – 22 March 1979; then travelled to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Eileen Gray, 6 February – 3 March 1980.
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Brought to you by

Jeremy Morrison
Jeremy Morrison

Lot Essay

A signature work by Eileen Gray

This graphically and sculpturally elegant stool well illustrates the unique creative personality of one of the twentieth century’s most revered designers. Eileen Gray’s story is a fascinating one; it is the story of a somewhat shy, intensely private, yet inspired and intellectually highly curious personality of very considerable creative vision. This single-minded and very determined young Irishwoman chose a life that defied the conventions of her generation, setting up home and making a career as an artist in Paris in the years before the Great War. Gray first worked in lacquer and found significant patrons for her lacquer furniture and artefacts, achieving a degree of renown in certain fashionable and sophisticated circles and being featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Feuillets d’Art. Self-promotion, however, was not her forte and her remarkable achievements were largely forgotten in the post-war decades, until diligent researchers – notably architectural historian Joseph Rykwert and American collector-sleuth Robert Walker rediscovered her work around 1968-70.

I was privileged to meet Eileen Gray in 1972, visiting her in her rue Bonaparte apartment. While I was curious to discuss her past achievements, particularly her work in lacquer, she – now in her nineties – was more interested to share with me new ideas she was pursuing. This forward-looking attitude, regarding creativity as an open-ended ‘work in progress’, characterised the flow of her career. Eight years later, four years after her death, I was entrusted by her executor with the sale at auction in Monte Carlo of most of the furniture and furnishings that she had created and kept for her own use. The present stool was included in that sale, and it is immensely pleasing, four decades later, to have the opportunity to revisit and reconsider this piece.

The materials and concept situate it to the late 1920s or around 1930, when Gray was invested in her projects to build and furnish houses at Roquebrune and Castellar in the South of France along radical, innovative lines. The earliest record we have of the stool is in a period photograph of the interior of Tempe à Pailla, her house at Castellar, where the stool is sited in the study area of her living room. Previously, a very simple, single-stem stool with circular seat and matching foot featured in the principal bedroom in E1027, the house at Roquebrune (Maison en Bord de Mer, 1929. pl. 18). This was in fact a dentist’s stool adapted by Gray with a seat comparable to that of the present stool and with similar contrasted stitching in concentric circles – perhaps this model was the start-point from which she developed the present more refined example and its sibling, a version with two steel rods, also in the 1980 estate auction.

The stool’s relative simplicity is deceptive. It is as much an aesthetic statement as a functional object and reveals a great deal about Gray’s distinct, ever-sensitive touch in developing new ideas for furnishings within the domestic architectural projects on which she worked in the later 1920s and 1930s. Progressing from the opulence of her work in lacquer, and very much in tune with ideas emerging among contemporaries, notably among the Dutch avant-garde, Gray worked towards an aesthetic of domestic design that investigated the potential of humble, sometimes industrial materials and mechanised rather than high craft production methods, of pared-down structures and visual lightness. Her designs gave primacy to function while respecting the need to please the eye and inspire the spirit. The proportions of the stool are perfect, its footprint minimal, its creator’s personality succinctly yet memorably expressed in the counterbalance of the graceful curve of the metal t-section stem against the single slender steel rod. It can justly be described as a fine signature piece by Eileen Gray.

Philippe Garner

The present stool is listed as number 65.2 in the inventory of Gray’s furniture designs published in the 2000 revised edition of Peter Adam’s monograph Eileen Gray Architect Designer. The single-stem stool dentist’s stool employed by Gray in E1027 is listed as 65.1. The companion stool to the present example, with paired-rod uprights sited towards the front of the seat, is listed as 65.3. It is conceivable that this latter example, enhanced with spaced and paired front supports in addition to the rear armature, was conceived to deliver more effective load-bearing capacity than the present single-stem example.

Christie’s would like to thank Patrice Le Faÿ d'Etxepare d'Ibarrola for his assistance in the cataloguing of the present lot, which will be included in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Eileen Gray currently in preparation.

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