Eileen Gray, born Kathleen Eileen Moray, was an Irish furniture designer, architect and a pioneer of the Modern Movement in architecture. She was the first women recognized for her work in industrial design.
She was born in Enniscorthy in County Wexford, Ireland, in 1878 to an aristocratic mother and artist father. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, where she had her first introduction to lacquering. Aged 24 she moved to Paris to continue her design education, and for many years quietly and determinedly began designing her modernist furniture. There, Eileen became involved in the Bohemian circles of the time, and was able to explore her bisexuality, in an era of sexual conservatism. After the Second World War, Eileen became largely forgotten, but she never lost her passion for architecture and design. She continued to work on her portfolio until her death in 1976, aged 98, after she suffered a fall in her studio.
Gray inherited his mother's good taste for decoration and the spirit of adventure of her father, the painter James Maclaren Smith. She made her first visit to Paris in 1900, accompanying the mother to the Universal Exhibition. She settled temporarily in Paris in 1902 to continue her studies in drawing at the École Colarossi. In 1905 she returns to London because of the illness of her mother and continued her studies at the Slade School of Art until 1906. At that year she returned permanently in Paris in an apartment on rue Bonaparte. At the outbreak of World War I, Eileen was driving an ambulance in Paris during the early months of 1915. Later she returned to London and opening a workshop for furniture design in Chealsea. In 1913 she held her first exhibition, showing some decorative panels at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs. Only in 1922 she earned a reputation as the first European artist of the twentieth century to adapt the Asian traditional techniques on the use of lacquer in the design.
Gray began experimenting with architecture since 1926, when she became a collaborator of the Romanian architect Jean Badovici (1893-1956). More than 45 projects were found in her file, many of which represented only by small and simple sketches. Her best known designs are the E 1027 house she designed for Badovici and summer home of Roquebrune in France which was also built together with Badovici. Le Corbusier was a fervent admirer of architecture of Gray.
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