24th June 2018
Eileen Gray spent almost 50 years forgotten and it has taken the intervening 50 years from the 1970s to return her to rightful recognition as a icon of Modernism.
Born in 1878 into Irish aristocracy in Enniscorthy, Ireland, Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith, the daughter of an artist was the first woman to be invited to study at Slade School of Art in London. In 1902 she headed to Paris to study at the Académie Colarossi (something of a pitstop) until studied at the highly thought of Académie Julian. An interest in the technique of Japanese lacquering and decorative panels had been fostered in London. Eileen met Japanese master of the art, Seizo Sugawara, with whom she trained and opened a lacquer workshop in 1910.
In the early 1920s, she opened her own shop Galerie Jean Désert (it is said that she purposefully used a non-gender specific name for the business – a reflection of how female artists were considered at that time). Her co-designer of the store? Jean Badovici, the man with whom she conceived the idea of and built E-1027.
Bearing in mind that she was not a trained architect and was by standards of the time, middle-aged – the idea of deciding to build a house on the hills overlooking the Mediterranean spoke not to foolhardiness, rather to everything that makes Eileen Gray, to her fans, rightfully one of the greatest designers of the 20th Century and unhesitatingly deserving of her place in Siobhan Parkinson’s book Rock the System about unique, fearless Irish women.
I’d like to think she didn’t so much rock the system as break it. She would not let anything be a barrier. Creativity burst from her every pore Named E-1027 after her name and her partner’s date of birth, the property in Rocquebrune is an iconic modernist house. It is the stunning manifestation of Eileen’s philosophical approach,
‘To create one must first question everything’
The house is simple, elegant and flows logically. It accommodates real people living (tempestuously at times) in a home that’s very name was a combination of their initials and dates.
Greyscape visited E-1027 in 2019 and wrote about the extraordinary story of the creation of the house and its decay in the early 1990s when it fell into a desperate state of disrepair. Rescue came care of some driven individuals who simply could not bear to lose the property. In 1999 the French National Trust lent its support and protection. In 2014 Association Cap Moderne was formed in order to protect this important example of 20th Century modernism. Today all essential structural work has now been completed what remains to be done is the re-creation of Eileen’s fixed and freestanding furnishings using her original methods and materials alongside improving disabled access to the site. We agree wholeheartedly with Siobhan Parkinson’s view about the magnificent Eileen Gray who due to her modesty might just have slipped under too many people’s radar,
‘Her extraordinary story deserves to be told. She was an incredible woman who was bashing down gender barriers before women even got the vote. E-1027 is the only place in the world to get a complete sense of her design and genius’.
Photo Credits: House and Furniture: Howard Morris