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Arts&Crafts

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10 December, 2014

50 Shades of Eileen Gray

As the work of irish artist, furniture designer and architect Eileen Gray continues to command staggering prices at auction – her dragon’s armchair holds the record price for 20th century furniture after it sold for €21.9 million at christie’s paris in 2009 – her influence is being showcased in a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, we take a virtual tour of the show and look at the graymarket for her iconic furniture.

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Cabinet with swivel drawers, 1926 – 1929

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when Eileen Gray became the new black in the world of high design. Neglected by the artistic community for most of her life (born in 1878, the first time her name was mentioned on the radio or TV was upon her death in 1976), a 1968 profile in Domus magazine is credited with “rediscovering” the work of the irish artist, furniture designer and architect.

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Console, 1918 – 1920

That new found appreciation for her influence slowly but surely grew to reach a peak in 2009 when her Dragon’s Armchair set an auction record for 20th-century furniture when it sold for €21.9 million at the Christie’s Paris auction of the collection of Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent. And now, in recognition of her red-hot status in the art market, Gray is the subject of a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

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The Dragon’s Armchair set an auction record for 20th century furniture when it sold for €21.9 million at the christie’s paris auction of the collection of pierre berge and yves saint Laurent in 2009.

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Transat armchair, 1926-1929

Varnished sycamore structure with nickel-plated steel fixtures, black synthetic leather seat; adjustable headrest furniture

What is not difficult to explain is why Gray’s work- which traverses the Art Décor period and the Modern Movement – is achieving such high prices from collectors. Yes, they are beautiful and unlike much high design are easy to live with (“They’re such luxurious objects,” says Cecile Verdier, head of Sotheby’s 20thcentury decorative arts and design department in Paris).

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Dining room chair 1926 – 1929

Nickel plated steel, brown leather furniture

And yes, Gray is now considered by critics as influential as Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe. But the real reason for her stellar performance in the auction room is the sheer rarity of her work. Having never turned to industrial production, each piece is unique. “She produced so little,” says Verdier of the market forces at work.

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Brick screen 1919 – 1922, Lacquered wood

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Sirene Chair, Circa 1919

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Adjustable table, circa 1926-1929

Lacquered tubular steel structure, clear round top in cellulose acetate, adjustable height

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Bibendum chair, circa 1930