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

Untitled, circa 1930

EILEEN GRAY (1878-1976)
Gray, E.
Untitled, circa 1930
gouache and collage on card
14 ¼ x 13 ¾ in. (36.2 x 35 cm.)
Executed circa 1930.
A gift from the artist to Peter Adam, and by descent.
Exhibition catalogue, Eileen Gray: The Private Painter, London, Osborne Samuel, 2015, p. 35, exhibition not numbered, illustrated.
London, Osborne Samuel, Eileen Gray: The Private Painter, October - November 2015, exhibition not numbered.
New York, Bard Graduate Center, Eileen Gray, February - July 2020, no. 135.

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Lot Essay

Eileen Gray is widely regarded as one of the most influential designers and architects of the 20th Century, a pioneer of both Art Deco and Modernism, but her paintings and drawings remain less well known. As Peter Adam, her biographer, related, ‘for 70 years Eileen would make stunning designs in gouache and ink or collages. Painting and drawing helped her to forget the aggravations that came with her other work. But she kept her activity as a painter secret, and most of it still needs to be discovered’ (P. Adam, 'Souvenirs of a Pioneer' in World of Interiors, December 2010, p. 159).

Trained first as a painter, Gray spent a year at Slade School of Art where her contemporaries included Jessica Dismorr and Wyndham Lewis, before moving to Paris in 1902 to continue her studies at Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi. As part of the avant-garde, her individuality and ideas were able to develop against the vibrant and artistic backdrop of the French capital. Gray’s work as a designer was characterised by a freedom of thought and approach. In her carpets for instance, she took traditional crafts and combined them in a radical manner with the principles of Fauvism, Cubism and De Stijl - her attention focused on their tactile, kinaesthetic and sensual properties.

This approach expanded into her drawings, paintings and collages. As Andrew Lambirth has written, ‘she loved to mix her media and bring in collage and cut paper to augment an image… there is very little difference in thinking behind a design and an imaginative painting. The same freedom and breadth characterised everything she did, as she ranged from figuration to abstraction, exploiting chance effects of application and juxtaposition’ (A. Lambirth, 'A Lifelong Business' in Eileen Gray: The Private Painter, London, 2015, p. 10).

Gray kept her activity as a painter secret throughout her life, and it was only Prunella Clough, her niece, and Peter Adam, with whom she shared this. Whilst Gray was undoubtedly a role model for Clough, encouraging her to become an artist, the admiration was mutual. They adopted a similar approach to the picture-making process and their work often resembles one another’s. With a shared sensitive handling of materials, innovative use of collage and evocation of texture, both Untitled, circa 1930 (lot 196) and Untitled, circa 1940 (the present lot) bring Clough’s work to mind. Untitled, circa 1940 (lot 195) displays a muted elegance and rich tonality which is consistent across Gray’s work, with the subtleties of colours creating a mood of mystery, or even poetry.

Similar to her design and architecture, and as Adam has related, what is striking about Gray’s artwork ‘is the mixture of simplicity and playfulness. A non-conformist, independent of the major art movements of her time, Eileen Gray was individual, without the missionary zeal of many of her contemporary painters. The extant artworks make one thing clear: Eileen Gray as an artist escapes any explanation. (They) exist to be enjoyed. They are a poetic, elegant view of the world always opening a breach to a new formal language’ (P. Adam, 'Eileen Gray as an Artist' in Eileen Gray: The Private Painter, London, 2015, p. 34).

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