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


EILEEN GRAY (1879-1976)
A Painted Wood 'Brick' Screen, 1923
composed of 45 large and ten small white-painted wood panels, articulated on steel rods
83½ in. (212 cm.) high, 63 in. (160 cm.) wide approximately
Collection of the artist.
Prunella Clough, London. Sotheby's, Monaco, Collection Eileen Gray, 25 May 1980, lot 259.
Private collection, Brussels.
Sotheby's, Monaco, Arts Décoratifs du 20ème Siècle, 7 October 1984, lot 216.
Private collection, on extended loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, New York, June 11, 2003, lot 22.
J. Wils, Eileen Gray Meubelen en Interieurs, Wendingen, 1924, p. 4.
S. Johnson, Eileen Gray Designer, Debrett's, 1979, pp. 32-33 for an illustration of the screens within Miss Gray's 'Bedroom-Boudouir for Monte Carlo'.
P. Garner, Eileen Gray: Design and Architecture 1878-1976, Cologne, 1993, p. 44 for an illustration of this screen, p. 80 for a photograph of Eileen Gray's rue Bonaparte apartment showing the present screen.
C. Constant and W. Wand (eds.), Eileen Gray: An Architecture for all Senses, exhibition catalogue, Berlin, 1996, p. 128. S. van Ravesteyn, Moderne Fransche Kunsnijverheid, Bouwkundig Weekblad, Amsterdam, no. 29, 14/07/1923, p. 321.
J. Badovici, 'Eileen Gray', L'Architecture Vivante, Paris, winter edition, 1924, pp. 27-28, pl. 36.
J. Badovici, 'Hall 1922', Intérieurs français, Paris, Édtns. Morancé, 1925, pl. 8.
B. Loye, Eileen Gray 1879-1976 Architecture Design, Paris, 1984, p. 36.
P. Adams, Eileen Gray: Une biographie, London, 1987, p. 132 for an illustration of the screen in the rue Bonaparte apartment.
C. Constant, Eileen Gray, Paris, 2003, p. 50.
P. Adam, Eileen Gray Leben und Werk, Munich, 2009, pp. 141, 347.

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Lot Essay

Eileen Gray's 'Bedroom-boudouir for Monte Carlo', presented at the XIVème Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, 1923.
Entrance hall to Madame Mathieu-Lévy's apartment in the rue de Lota, Paris, early 1920s

This white version of Eileen Gray's 'brick' screen concept - one of a pair from her estate - occupies a place of considerable importance in her career, defining the key point of transition between her early engagement with the luxury of lacquer and symbolist motifs and her subsequent commitment to Modernist ideals.

The idea of using rectangular panels of lacquered wood placed, like bricks, in off-set rows, first found expression in the refurbishment project of 1919-1922 of the Paris apartment of Mme Mathieu-Lévy. Here, in the hallway, Miss Gray lined the walls with such panels and the germ of the idea for free-standing 'brick' screens can be seen in her use of lofty, articulated rows of panels set perpendicular to the wall in order to break the space. A rich, tactile but essentially two-dimensional solution for covering the walls had revealed a sculptural potential. The hall panelling was one of the last elements of the apartment project to be installed and was to be followed within a very short time by the presentation of the first free-standing screens as crucial compositional elements in the 'Bedroom-boudoir for Monte Carlo' exhibited by Miss Gray at the Salon des Artistes Déorateurs in 1923. Photographs of this inspired scheme - radical in its essential simplicity, even austerity, yet rendered inviting through the inclusion of lacquer furniture and luxurious soft furnishings - featured a pair of white 'brick' screens flanking the central sofa.

A detailed analysis of various archive documents (Victoria & Albert Museum, London and private sources) leads to the conclusion that the present screen is one of the pair presented in 1923. The two surviving white 'brick' screens conform precisely in their proportions to the pair presented in the 1923 Salon, with the single distinction that they are shorter by one row. This detail does not contradict the identification of the two screens as the very ones presented within the 'Bedroom-boudoir for Monte Carlo', for there are a number of instances of Miss Gray adapting existing pieces for her own use. The document trail reveals the inability of these screens - conceptually far ahead of the market - to find a buyer, despite their availability over a period of years through Miss Gray's own Galerie Jean Désert in Paris and their later despatch on consignment for sale to a leading London champion of modern design. The screens are listed in the extant stock after the closure of Jean Désert in 1930; in 1936 they were sent to the Duncan Miller gallery in London and can be identified in a contemporary photograph, displayed in the gallery window, still the same height as in 1923. There is no record of a sale and they were eventually returned to Miss Gray in Paris.

Unable to sell the existing white screens, there was no incentive to make others, though Miss Gray did develop the theme in black lacquered versions of varying proportions. She eventually decided to use the white screens herself and the next traces of these screens are photographs that show them incorporated in Miss Gray's own homes, both now reduced in height by one row to suit the new domestic proportions in contrast to the high-ceilinged exhibition space of the 1923 Salon. A period photograph shows one of the screens in Lou Pérou, the house she created for herself behind Saint-Tropez after the war and in which, as her biographer Peter Adam records: 'A white brick screen separated the dining and the sitting areas.' (Adam, 1987, p. 353)

Another, later photograph shows the present screen in Miss Gray's Rue Bonaparte apartment, now contrasted with a black lacquer 'brick' screen, the two flanking a long rectangular table. By curious coincidence, the base of this table shares a common origin with the white screen. The table consisted of a lacquered panel set onto a plinth built from two blocks that match the pedestals of the central sofa in the 1923 Salon scheme - a prime instance of Miss Gray's ingenious readiness to adapt existing pieces.

These two screens remained in Miss Gray's possession till her death. The present screen featured as lot 259 in her estate sale in Monte Carlo in 1980, ironically fulfilling its destined association with the principality; the other remained with Miss Gray's heir Prunella Clough, passed subsequently to Peter Adam and was eventually sold to the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.
With her 'brick' screens, Eileen Gray created in 1923 an exceptional design that is as much an abstract work of art as a piece of furniture. She understood the importance of the intangible constituents - light and space - that are the virtue of the concept. A delicate sense of proportion, flexibility and a faultless balance of solid and void give to these constructions their airiness and sense of lightness. They create changing shapes as one moves around them, achieving a Kinetic effect. Miss Gray was a visionary who found only limited understanding and appreciation among her contemporaries, but she is justly hailed today for her sensitive and individualistic translation of Modernist ideals into truly engaging and memorable designs.


We would like to thank Patrice Le Fay D'Etxepare D'Ibarrola for his assistance with the cataloguing of this lot. Philippe Garner and Patrice Le Fay D'Etxepare D'Ibarrola are working together on a catalogue raisoné of the work of Eileen Gray.

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