Cultured Magazine

Winter 2015

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198 CULTURED The late Eileen Gray, who ruffled the feathers of Le Corbusier, continues to cause a stir on the auction block. By GeorGe Lindemann Some pieces of furniture are considered icons for their sheer ubiquity, for defining a moment in time, or for employing inventive construction techniques. Others—like Eileen Gray's Fauteuil aux Dragons (Armchair with Dragons)—acquire icon status because of their uniqueness and enviable provenance. But in 2009 the chair earned additional notoriety overnight when its Christie's sale price of $28 million shattered all previous records for 20th century furniture. The Irish-born, Paris-based designer created the armchair between 1917 and 1919, as part of her first complete interior, for client Suzanne Talbot. When Yves Saint Laurent subsequently bought it in 1973, he saw it as one of the stars of his Art Deco collection. Its plump leather upholstery and sinuous curves have a heft and fluidity that disappeared from much of Gray's later work, after she thoroughly embraced the more austere influences of the emerging modern movement. Considered to be one of her earliest seats it represents a period when she was primarily known for her lacquer work and she undoubtedly lacquered it herself, applying layer after layer onto its undulating, serpentine-like wooden frame. She honed the skill after completing her studies at London's Slade School of Fine Art while she apprenticed in one of the city's lacquer shops. She then trained under the Japanese master Seizo Sugawara in Paris, and subsequently produced Art Deco panels and screens. Amongst other things, the sale secured her reputation as one of the 20th century's most influential designers a view not necessarily shared by many of her contemporaries who tried to undermine her accomplishments during her lifetime. In 1929, Gray completed the E.1027 house in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. For the interior of the vacation home in the South of France she produced furniture that is still highly recognizable including the popular tubular steel and glass E.1027 adjustable side table. The residence, a masterpiece of purist white walls and strict rectilinear geometry, is so perfect that a decade later, in 1939, Le Corbusier assaulted it with wall-spanning murals, some filled with colorful erotic imagery. Aram Designs currently reproduces many of Gray's furniture under license including examples from the E.1027 house and numerous other pieces with tubular steel construction. The Dragons armchair, however, like much of Gray's early lacquer work, remains strictly one of a kind—making it that much more of an icon. In 2009, Christie's sold Fauteuil aux Dragons for $28 million, breaking the record for 20th century furniture. THE MOTHER OF MODERNISM © CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LIMITED 2009

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