In the early 1920s, Eileen Gray designed a divan that, nearly a century later, remains a timeless synthesis of elegant line and immense practicality. The result appears effortlessly modern today, a model of formal and functional clarity; when conceived, it was an understated, yet radical manifestation of a new way of thinking about furniture design.
Only one surviving example was hitherto recorded, the specific one made by Miss Gray for her own use within her rue Bonaparte, Paris, apartment. That example was included in the auction in Monte Carlo in 1980 of works from her estate and is today in a private collection. Another version appears in a 1933 illustration of the reinstallation of the rue de Lota apartment of Suzanne Talbot, flanked by Miss Gray's celebrated 'dragons' armchair and a 'Bibendum' armchair. The discovery of the present red-lacquered end blocks from a further example therefore constitutes a fascinating addition to the catalogue raisonné, one made all the more interesting by the documented provenance, which allows us to firmly establish a design date of no later than 1923.
William F. Dunn and his wife Edna, accompanied by their son, residents of San Francisco, were on a tour of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East from October 1923 until April 1924. Edna's diary confirms that they were in Paris in November 1923 and March 1924. An entry for November 1923 confirms shopping in the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, where, at number 217, was located the Galerie Jean Désert, opened in the spring of 1922 by Eileen Gray as a retail outlet for her furniture and rugs.
The Jean Désert daybooks take up the story, with the confirmation in 1925 of final payment received from a Mr. Dunn of San Francisco for the purchase in 1923 and 'Exportation' of a 'Divan et Bol'. Of the bowl all trace is lost. The two red lacquer divan ends, however, with their discreet recessed compartments with flap covers, have survived intact and are published here for the first time.
cf. P. Adam, Eileen Gray Architect/Designer, New York, 2000, pp. 104-105 for images of another divan of this model and an image of a divan in the rue de Lota apartment of Madame Mathieu-Lévy; p. 331 for a portrait of Miss Gray seated on her example of the divan in the rue Bonaparte apartment.