Video: Tire Shaped Chair and Villa Stolen by Le Corbusier: How Eileen Gray, the First Female Modernist Designer Created and Was Forgotten
2023 Author: Richard Flannagan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 05:58
She was the first to create what has become a classic of modern design, but she never insisted on her primacy and did not fight for authorship recognition. She dedicated the main masterpiece of her life to her beloved - but both creation and love were taken from her.
Eileen Gray's story is like an answer to the question of where are all the great women - architects and designers of the old days, and why so few of their works have come down to us.
Eileen Gray was born in 1878 into the aristocratic Murena family. Gray is her mother's maiden name. Eileen did not receive a special education and in all her work she rather followed intuition. Having started her studies at the London School of Art, she did not finish it and moved to France, where she worked in her own tiny workshop. She began by decorating the apartments of her wealthy friends.
The owner of the hat boutique, Madame Mathieu Levy, asked her to come up with something like that - and Eileen, inspired by Michlein tires, made a soft, rounded armchair for her with support on metal tubes and an adjustable back. And besides that - carpets, tables and screens made of unexpected materials: glass, lacquered wood, cork …
At that time, the trend was gilding, wood, skillful carving. However, Eileen was creating something different, something that caused the ridicule of others - and then envy. She began using metal pipes in 1918 - several years before similar experiments by Marcel Breuer and Le Corbusier. But if Marcel Breuer sued one of his colleagues who used similar materials and forms, then Eileen Gray never defended the right of primacy.
In Paris, Eileen studied not only with European masters, but also conducted joint activities with a Japanese émigré, artisan Seizo Sugawara. Subsequently, they met again when, during World War II, Eileen decided to leave the war-torn continental Europe for her homeland - Sugawara moved to London a little earlier, and she continued to work in his workshop.
Eileen was not a member of any artistic or political association. This, on the one hand, allowed her to create without correlating her actions with the "party program", a creative manifesto, without engaging in empty arguments and not defending her decisions on every occasion. But on the other hand, she practically had no friends who could support her.
Gray, an introverted, modest and intelligent woman, had a reputation for being a rebel. Known for her novels with people of different sexes and far from the aristocratic environment. She loved cars and loved speed. She dressed and looked the way she felt comfortable.
At fifty, Eileen built her first and most famous home, the modernist Villa E-1027. In this strange name, a love message is encrypted - the numbers mean the serial numbers of the first letters of the name and surname of Jean Badovichi - her lover. He was almost half her age, handsome, bright, active and … poor. Jean for some time was engaged in the promotion of her work - or rather, her store was opened in his name. He dreamed of a home of his own - so why didn't Eileen build a love nest for them?
“Like music, work makes sense when love is a witness,” Eileen wrote in her diary at the time. She built this villa on the Cote d'Azur, with her own money and practically with her own hands. She filled it with things of her own design, taking care of Jean's comfort. The space of the villa - white, simple, geometric - was filled with references to the life of the "sea wolf". Canvas curtains, a full-wall map, carpets with nautical patterns, armchairs that look like sun loungers … In addition, the interior of the villa was freely planned, mobile - tables and interior partitions moved along the rails, wardrobes were built into the walls, screens and mirrors moved with a wave hands … Particularly unusual here was a table made of bent tubes and glass, named after the villa.
Eileen designed the house for Jean, because they were waiting for a long and happy life here - so what difference does it make who is the owner?
During the few years they spent at Villa E-1027, they were almost never alone. Eileen went to the back of the house, unable to listen to the chatter and jokes of Jean's friends. Among the multitude of guests constantly crowding with them, one especially frightened and embarrassed her. His name was Le Corbusier. He spent more and more time there, acquired the habit of walking around the villa naked, while the relationship between Eileen and Jean was crumbling in the meantime.
Once Eileen could not stand it, packed her things and left, leaving Jean with everything that she had once created. Le Corbusier began to use the E-1027 villa as a springboard for his own experiments - he painted the walls with frescoes and built his own house next to it. After Badovici's death, he bought the villa and later presented it as his own. At the same time, he once invited Eileen to participate in an exhibition organized by him, but she was literally sick at the mention of him. Refusing to communicate with the great Le Corbusier, Eileen signed her own death warrant in the design world.
The things she invented continued to be produced - under a false name. Villa E-1027 was badly damaged during the war - both from bombs and looters. Eileen continued to work for a narrow circle of friends, created several more houses (unfortunately, not preserved), but until the end of the 60s she remained practically in obscurity.
In 1968, suddenly, in the authoritative magazine Domus, an article by Joseph Rookvert about Eileen Gray was published. This contributed to an avalanche-like growth of interest in her work, several exhibitions were organized, contracts were concluded for the production of things under her name … were able to preserve and use her creative heritage.
October 31, 1976 on the national radio of France announced: "In the ninety-ninth year of life, died Eileen Gray, an architect …". For the first time, her name was mentioned to a wide audience. Eileen, of course, didn't care anymore.
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