EILEEN GRAY (1879-1976)
EILEEN GRAY (1879-1976)
EILEEN GRAY (1879-1976)
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EILEEN GRAY (1879-1976)
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EILEEN GRAY (1879-1976)


EILEEN GRAY (1879-1976)
‘Aum Mane Padme Aum’, also known as ‘Le Magicien de la Nuit’ (‘The Magician of the Night’), circa 1912
lacquer on wood, mother-of-pearl with original frame
33 ¼ in. (84.5 cm) high; 39 ½ in. (100.3 cm) wide, including frame
Jean Désert, Eileen Gray’s gallery in Paris
William and Edna Dunn, San Francisco acquired from the above, 1923
Thence by descent to the present owner
VlIIe Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, Pavillon de Marsan, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 1913, catalogue no. 67, p. 58, another version
M. Pillard-Verneuil, Le Salon de la Société des Artistes Décorateurs en 1913’, Art et Décoration, Paris, March 1913, p. 91, for an illustration of another version
P. Garner, Eileen Gray Designer and Architect, Cologne, 1993, p. 39, for an illustration of another version
New York, Bard Graduate Center, Eileen Gray, 13 - 28 October 2020, reproduced p. 251

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Alex Heminway

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Lot Essay

This lot will be included in the catalogue raisonné written by Mr. Patrice le Faÿ d’Etxepare d’Ibarrola.

This symbolist panel by Eileen Gray is a remarkable recent addition to her documented oeuvre in lacquer. The panel – a quintessential early demonstration of both her technical mastery and her inspired creativity – has a full and engaging provenance that brings to life a now mythical era in the story of art and life in Paris, the city in which Gray found her artistic fulfilment. Credit should also be given to the Japanese lacquer artist Seizô Sougawara, who taught Gray the refinements of this exacting craft and collaborated closely with her in the execution of her works in lacquer.
The panels theme and title
The panel’s allegorical composition of three figures conveys the essence of Gray’s vision in the years before the Great War, distilling aspects of the symbolist art of the fin-de-siècle and of the mystical occultism that fascinated her. The exoticism of the figures’ costumes, meanwhile, echoes the contemporary fascination with a mythical orient, a taste inspired by the costumes created by Léon Bakst for the Diaghilev ballet Schéhérazade staged to huge acclaim in Paris in 1910. Bakst’s exotic designs were swiftly and successfully adapted by couturier Paul Poiret and became the height of fashion. Throughout her career, Gray demonstrated a willful independence of spirit; never a part of the mainstream, she nonetheless remained in close harmony with her times. ‘Le Magicien de la Nuit’ perfectly captures this fruitful duality.
Gray made her first trip to Paris in 1900, with her mother, to visit the Exposition Universelle, at a moment when Art Nouveau and symbolism held sway. While her work was to evolve towards a delicate but radical modernism, the subtlety and lyricism of all that she was to create added an ineffable poetic dimension that reflected the multiple and rich artistic and literary ideas that she had assimilated in her formative years and continued to explore throughout her life.
The panel’s title ‘Aum Mane Padme Aum’, given to the exhibited version in the 1913 Salon catalogue, is a Tibetan Buddhist mantra that references the lotus as a jewel enabling enlightenment. The lotus, key to the composition’s narrative, is inlaid in shimmering mother-of-pearl. The panel has come to be known by the evocative title ‘Le Magicien de la Nuit’ (‘The Magician of the Night’). Though the precise source of this second title remains elusive, it is understandable that a French title should have emerged as an alternative to the esoteric original title. The panel has also mistakenly been referenced by the title of another panel shown in the 1913 Salon, ‘La Forêt Enchantée’ (‘The Enchanted Forest’) – clearly an error, not least because of this title’s descriptive inaccuracy.
By the time of the 1913 Salon, Gray was already undertaking an ambitious four-panel screen, also with three figures, here illustrating an allegory of Fate (‘Le Destin’). Pre-eminent collector Jacques Doucet had visited the Salon and was sufficiently taken by Gray’s submission that he made a studio visit, committing to the purchase of the screen, completed the following year. Doucet went on to commission further pieces, including a table with legs modelled as lotus flowers, picking up on the theme of Gray’s ‘Le Magicien de la Nuit’ panel.
The panel’s provenance
Gray’s Jean Désert gallery ledger gives details of the purchase of this panel. An entry for January 5th 1926 confirms payment for three works purchased by the Dunn family of San Francisco in 1923, a divan, a bowl, and the panel.
Edna L. Dunn, her husband William F. Dunn, and their son Lee made a lengthy trip to Europe, Egypt, and parts of the Middle East between October, 1923 and April 1924. The purchases were made in then rue du Faubourg St Honoré gallery during their first stay in Paris, where, according to Edna’s diary, they arrived on November 27th. Edna’s diary entries and surviving photographs give a colourful evocation of a handsome, well-off young couple enjoying the city and notably its sophisticated culinary and theatrical delights. The following extracts give the flavour of their séjour [with some rationalisation to spelling and punctuation]:
Tuesday November 27th
Arrived in Paris at 5 o’clock, said goodbye to François and the Cadillac car. Got in touch with Wolf and Billy Crimms [?] and had dinner with them at Paillard from where we went to the La Abbey [?], in Montmartre, spent a very enjoyable evening, retired quite late. Saw a coal-black negro dancing with a white girl at the La Abbey – they say it’s not uncommon.
Wednesday November 28th
Spent most of the day in the room. We have lovely rooms at the Crillon. Will and Lee went to the Opéra with Wolf and Billy….
Thursday November 29th Thanksgiving
I had a shampoo, wave and manicure, then went to the Casino [de Paris?] – saw a very remarkable show matinée performance. We were all shocked at the “naval parade” (as Mrs. Pixley calls it). Saw two wonderful dancers, best I’ve ever seen. Had dinner at the Lion Rouge, then back to the hotel and bed.
Friday November 30th
Stopped and arranged for our tickets at American Express, we were amazed at expense, about $800 a piece. Had dinner Paillard and then to the Palace, “Dolly Sisters” – they are very good, beautiful costumes – some shapely girls in the chorus and very pretty ones. “Busts” seem to be the vogue in Paris.
Saturday December 1st
Will, Lee & Meyer went to the Folies Bergère. Later they met Mrs. Anderson and the three girls, went to Pigalle and danced.
Sunday December 2nd
Slept until nearly 12 o’clock, had breakfast, then hired a car and drove through the park and all around the points of interest. Took Mrs. Pixley to dinner at La Tour d’Argent where they cook duck as their speciality…. . After dinner we went to the Moulin Rouge where we picked up Edward (a guide). We took Lee home, then the four of us went slumming. First went to Madame Yvonne’s, then to “The House of All Nations,” where King Edward used to go for his fun. Saw his “chair” and bed, also bathtub. It’s supposed to be the first house [brothel] in Paris.
[They left the next day for Nice.]
Dating the panel
A close variant of the present panel – one of the four recorded versions – was presented in Gray’s first public exhibition, in the 1913 Paris Salon des Artistes Décorateurs. Described as an ‘Overmantel panel’, It was the first of four works listed in the Salon catalogue and was illustrated in a review of the Salon in the journal Art et Décoration, establishing the design as Gray’s earliest surviving work in lacquer that can be dated with certainty. The Salon opened on February 22nd 1913. Taking into account the labour-intensive nature of the making of such a work and the lead-in time needed for the preparation of her submission, we can reasonably suggest that the exhibited panel would most likely have been completed the previous year, in 1912. Gray typically would explore her ideas in depth, but she was always forward-looking. While certain themes and threads run through her ever-evolving work, when she moved on from a specific idea or phase, she would typically not return to revisit it. The likelihood, therefore, in the absence of alternative evidence, is that the four versions of this panel were executed around the same time, the variants serving as exercises in colour and effect on a subject that was surely close to her heart. It is worth noting that the present panel has flanges on the reverse that match those on a recently rediscovered frieze panel by Gray that was surely made around the same time – possibly the frieze referenced in the 1913 Salon catalogue – recorded as having been shown in the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, San Francisco, in 1915 (Collection of the Maryhill Museum of Art, Washington State, USA (1938-1)).
The four versions of the panel
Four versions of the panel are recorded, each involving the same composition, but with very minor differences in the detail of the drawing, and with substantial differences in colour – though we have no indication of the colour or colours of the exhibited work. It seems likely that the exhibited panel and the other three were developed in parallel as experiments in colour and effect. The four recorded versions of the panel comprise:
The panel exhibited in the 1913 Salon, known only from the black and white image published in Art & Décoration. The most notable distinguishing feature of this example is the presence of small, soft, clouds of paler tone across the surface. The tight crop to the image of this illustration means we have no idea of how it was framed.
The present panel.
A version of the panel in deep blue lacquer incorporating its lacquer frame with flanking columns. This was acquired from Gray by her major client Juliette Lévy around 1920 and is now in a private collection.
A version incorporating multiple colours and effects within the lacquer and in its original black lacquer frame. This had been acquired from Gray by another significant client, Ginette Labourdette, and was not known until it surfaced in a Paris auction (Beaussant Lefèvre, December 3rd 2003, lot 85). It is now in a private collection. Unusually, this panel bears the name of Seizô Sougawara. The panel’s highly detailed rendering of costume and the more naturalistic skin tones compare closely with these features of the early frieze panel exhibited in San Francisco in 1915, cited above.
Philippe Garner
Christie’s International Consultant, who this fall celebrates his fiftieth anniversary in the auction world. He first encountered Gray’s lacquer work in 1970, at a time when it had been completely overlooked for decades and he first met her in 1972 in her rue Bonaparte apartment. He has researched her career in depth over the years and has handled the sale at auction of a significant number of her works.

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