Eileen Gray has been one of Andrew Hodgkinson’s greatest inspirations in producing ground-breaking work and iconic buildings in a Modernist design. She was one of the most accomplished, pioneering female Irish Architects and Designers of the 20th century. Zeev Aram remarked that her designs are now as recognisable as other early 20th century architects such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, yet in her working days although highly Modernist she went by somewhat undetected. Her E 1027 house on the Cote d’Azur defines Modernist philosophy, shown below, putting theory into practice. Zeev Aram was the one to encourage her to begin a production line of her furniture designs in response to which she asked if it was worth doing. This insecurity in her own talent was potentially a confounding factor in what held her back from receiving much credit during her career alongside the then hostile, male-centric industry. The likes of Le Corbusier in contrast believed without doubt that his architectural language would redefine the physical landscape. He wrote books like, ‘Toward an Architecture’ a statement of what should become the new norm and he succeeded, we remember him. He is one of the geniuses of the 20th century. What is not so quickly remembered was his obsession with Gray’s E 1027, how he defaced the house with several mock murals, outraged that a woman could have made a work in a style he considered his own and yet built a ‘cabanon’ in sight of the villa, see below.
Eileen Gray's famous Villa E-1027, illustrating the murals vandalised by Corbusier.
(Source: 'Restoring Eileen Gray's Villa E-1027 and Clarifying the Controversies', available at https://collectie.hetnieuweinstituut.nl/en/activities/restoring-eileen-grays-villa-e1027-and-clarifying-controversies).
Eileen Gray somehow created a building that epitomised Modernist philosophy which disgruntled Corbusier as he had not designed it.
In 1973, Andrew Hodgkinson in his final year studying Interior Design at Brighton College of Art had the privilege of going to Paris to interview Eileen Gray. In this interview she repeatedly stated that she was a passing phase, whom would be quickly replaced by a new Designer or Architect. How such doubt in herself may have prevented Eileen in gaining more traction in her working life. She would have been amazed to see the legacy she has left behind and to know she created the world’s most expensive chair, shown in the image right, once owned by Yves St Laurent and Pierre Bergé, it was auctioned for €22m in 2009.
(Source: The Guardian, 2020. ‘The world’s most expensive chair …
Fauteuil aux Dragons, designed between 1917 and 1919.
Photograph: Christie's Auction House/EPA)
Subsequently, following Eileen’s death the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Centre Pompidou, Paris and so on, held a retrospective exhibition have showcased Eileen’s legacy. Alongside this the Bard Graduate Center, New York, held an extensive exhibition and showcased a film produced, called ‘In conversation with Elieen Gray’. Her innovative achievements and transformation of ‘space’ which catalysed a ground-breaking modern movement in both Architecture and design.