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


EILEEN GRAY (1879-1976)
lacquered, incised and painted wood
each panel: 78½ in. (200 cm.) high, 17 in. (43.2 cm.) wide, 1/2 in. (1.3 cm.) deep
Galerie Jean Désert, Paris, 1930;
Mme. Jean-Henri Labourdette, Paris;
by descent to her daughter Mme. Louis Pauwels, Paris;
Jean-Claude Brugnot, Paris;
Sotheby's, New York, 1-2 December 1989, lot 754.
J. Badovici, Eileen Gray: Meubelen en Interieurs, Wendingen, series 6, no. 6l, Amsterdam, 1924, p. 9 for an image of the screen in Eileen Gray's Paris gallery, Jean Désert. P. Garner, 'The Lacquer Work of Eileen Gray and Jean Dunand', The Connoisseur, London, 1973, p. 4 for the original design drawing for this screen;
S. Johnson, Eileen Gray: Designer 1879-1976, London, 1979, p. 28;
P. Adam, Eileen Gray: Architect/Designer, London, 1987, p. 75;
P. Garner, Eileen Gray: Designer and Architect, Cologne, 1993, p. 51;
C. Constant, Eileen Gray, New York, 2000, p. 46.
London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Eileen Gray: Designer 1879-1976, 1979;
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Eileen Gray: Designer 1879-1976, 1980;
New York, DeLorenzo Gallery, Eileen Gray, December 1997.

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Lot Essay

This magnificent eight-panel screen was made in the early twenties. It is one of three variations on a theme, with incised linear decoration in a deep brown lacquer ground. It is the most impressive, the other two being smaller and their decoration less elaborated. It can be identified within a photograph in the special issue of the Dutch art journal Wendingen, published in 1924, devoted to her work (see illustration). The screen is shown with a lacquered floor lamp and 'pirogue' daybed. These works are characteristic of the sumptuous lacquer pieces presented in her Galerie Jean Désert, opened in May 1922 on the rue du Faubourg St Honoré in Paris. The screen is indeed recorded in a later stock list of the gallery. It is interesting to note the discreet use of three vertically aligned half circles, a motif that was also incorporated in the above-mentioned floor lamp and that can be found on the inner edges of lacquer mirror frames of the same date.

Miss Gray enjoyed the appreciation and custom of two key clients in the twenties, two fashionable ladies with a well-developed eye for quality and integrity who acquired from her closely comparable groups of lacquer works. They were Mme Mathieu Lévy and Mme Jean Henri-Labourdette. The former commissioned Miss Gray to fully refurbish her apartment and acquired furniture that included a 'pirogue'. A central feature of the refurbishment, executed between 1919 and 1922, was a series of lacquer wall panels with a decoration of fine sweeping and intersecting lines (see illustration). These developed an idea first pursued in the decoration of one side (see illustration) of the screen 'Le Destin', created in 1914 for the couturier collector Jacques Doucet, on the other side of which was a symbolist figurative subject. Mme Henri-Labourdette acquired, inter alia, an example of the 'pirogue' and the present screen, a dynamic progression of the linear designs in the above-mentioned paneling.

These dates are all very pertinent to the place that the present screen occupies in Miss Gray's oeuvre. For we see her, between Doucet and Mme Lévy, evolving from the figurative to the abstract, with linear graphics as a constant. But we are also aware that in the early 20s she established connections with the Dutch avant-garde and was impressed by the purity of the art and design ideas of the De Stijl group. And this is precisely the moment at which straight lines and angles come into play in her concept for the decoration of the present screen, a bold graphic design that moves forward from the curves that one might trace back to Miss Gray's visit to the Paris exhibition of 1900, when Art Nouveau reigned supreme. An asymmetrical, strictly rectangular table created around this time (see illustration) might be interpreted as an acknowledgment of, if not a homage to the Dutch neo-Constructivists. We should note that Piet Mondrian was living and working in Paris at this time, and that his abstract paintings found their mature form, with their asymmetrical, rectangular grids lines of varying widths, in 1920-21.

The present screen therefore can be understood as a distinguished, high-quality piece that marked a particular phase of transition in Miss Gray's art, a phase within a fluid evolution that followed her constant curiosity to develop ideas. It is the constancy of this curiosity that defines Miss Gray's career, a career that was never simply a story of two discrete and distinct chapters, one Symbolist, one Modernist.

The screen, one of a tiny number of paneled screens by Miss Gray recorded let alone surviving, was among the fine group of works bought by Mme Henri-Labourdette from the artist. It remained in her family's possession until acquired in the 70s by Paris dealer-collector Jean-Claude Brugnot, by whom it was eventually sold at auction in New York, where it was bought by Steven Greenberg.

This screen has been requested for loan to a monographic exhibition on Eileen Gray at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, opening in February 2013.

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