Eileen Gray at the IMMA


The Irish Museum of Modern Art at Kilmainham in Dublin reopened recently and I made a particular point of visiting during my recent short break in the city, particularly as I was keen to see the exhibition about the work of Eileen Gray that had originally been shown in Paris at the Beauborg. I got interested in her work after reading an article in the London Review of Books earlier this year, and had already visited the permanent exhibition about her life and work at the Irish National Museum at the Collins Barracks, not far from the IMMA, in June, which had cemented my enthusiasm. Born as Katherine Eileen Moray Smith in 1878, near Enniscorthy, a market town in south-eastern Ireland, she moved to London to study art and then on to Paris. She painted, worked in lacquer, produced rugs and carpets and moved on to designing bespoke furniture and Modernist buildings. So quite a talent.

I was very much looking forward to seeing this exhibition. However, to be honest, I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t as comprehensive as I’d hoped. It was fine in that it covered the breadth of her work, but I thought it lacked depth, at least in some aspects. I was particularly disappointed that they didn’t have more of her lacquer work on show. But I guess that must be hard to get hold of.

Six-panel screen c.1922-1925

They only had a relatively limited range of her furniture, but, no doubt, that’s because she didn’t produce that much and they were mainly one off pieces created for private clients. They did have a Bibendum chair, a curved sofa and a couple of examples of the little reading table she designed. No photos allowed, but I have included some pictures in this post from various sources, including the Beaubourg and Victoria and Albert websites.


There was a section covering her architecture, with scale models, plans, photographs and slide shows and some pieces of her furniture from her revolutionary Modernist building,   E-1027, some pieces designed specifically for the house.  There were some photographs and a selection of nice abstract paintings, and carpet designs, with a few actual carpets, some from her workshop and one that had been recreated by an Irish firm.

St Tropez rug

There were also scale models of the buildings she’d designed, including  E-1027,

Model of E.1027, Roquebrune/Cap Martin (Alpes-Maritimes), France

theTempe a Pailla near Menton, as well as her renovated summer house Lou Perou (in this case a traditional design). There were models too of a couple of designs that were never realised in practice – an elliptical house designed for workers on remote sites or for temporary disaster housing, (I’m not sure that it would have been comfortable to live in) and an interesting looking caravan/tent.

The exhibition included contextual information –  documentary, photographic and biographical material to provide insights into hers interests, influences and motivations. There are also a number of video works including pictures of E-1027, before and after its renovation, and an interview with the artist herself.


We visited the Bauhaus archive while we were in Berlin and I’ve been reading up on the revolutionary German art and design school both before and after that holiday. So I was quite struck with the many similarities between her work and that movement (the architecture and furniture designs particularly, but also her photographs and carpet designs). Not surprising, really I guess.

As a stand alone exhibition it was good, telling her life story well and with some good examples of her work. But it didn’t add as much as I’d hoped to what I’d seen and learned at the Collin’s Barracks. So, overall I enjoyed the exhibition, but felt a little unsatisfied. Rather like having eaten a light meal when you really expected something more substantial. But still well worth the visit.

Autumn at the IMMA

The main building at Irish Museum of Modern Art at Kilmainhaim re-opened recently. I called in while I was in Dublin last weekend as I wanted to see the new exhibition about Eileen Gray which had transferred from the Beaubourg in Paris and to see the other new exhibitions, including the retrospective on the work of the Surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington which is showing in the Garden Gallery. There were also a couple of other exhibitions in the main building – “One Foot in the Real World“, showing works from the Galley’s permanent collection, and “In the Line of Beauty” that features the works of some younger contemporary Irish artists.

I’ll be writing up my impressions of the exhibitions in the near future. But while I was there, and as it was a fine autumn day, I took some time out to wander round the grounds. The change of the seasons meant it looked different compared to when I was last there at the end of June.

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Eileen Gray

There was an article in the Observer today about E1027, the Modernist house on the Côte d’Azur designed by the Irish designer and architect, Eileen Gray. I’d never heard of her until relatively recently when I read an article in the London Review of Books about her triggered by the start of an exhibition of her work at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (it finished at the end of May). Now she seems to keep popping up everywhere!

File:Eileen gray.JPG

Image source: Wikipedia

She was born as Katherine Eileen Moray Smith in 1878, near Enniscorthy, a market town in south-eastern Ireland, but moved to London to study art and then on to Paris. An article on the Time Out website reviewing the Pompidou exhibition tells us that

Miss Gray was one of those avant-garde women who wore trousers and broke into a man’s world with their creative flair. A self-made woman and multitalented designer, she spent a good portion of her long (1878-1976) life in France – after her studies at London’s Slade school of art, she moved to Paris in 1902 where she learned (in the studio of Seizo Sugawara) to create futuristic furniture in lacquer, and to insinuate into her screens, tables and lamps the oblique lines that prefigured modernism.

She then moved on into designing Modernist furniture and carpets and interiors. Her best known designs are the Bibendum chair, named after the character created by Michelin to advertise their tyres,

Bibendum chair (picture source: http://antiquesandartireland.com)

and the E1027 table designed in 1929, initially to facilitate her sister reading in bed.


E-1027 table by Eileen Gray (picture source Wikipedia)

In the 1920’s she moved on to architecture, her first design being E1027


E-1027 (Picture source Friends of E1027 website)

There’s a small permanent exhibition about her life and work at the Irish National Museum at the Collins Barracks and, curious to find out more about her after the LRB article had fired my interest, I had a look at it during my visit last Sunday. 

The exhibition posthumously realised one of Gray’s last ambitions – to have her work brought back to Ireland – and

includes such important items as the adjustable chrome table and the non-conformist chair. The exhibition also values Gray on a personal level, including family photographs, her lacquering tools, and personal ephemera. It illustrates an account of her professional development from art student in London and Paris to mature, innovative architect. The exhibition honours the memory of Eileen Gray, modern self-taught architect and designer.

The exhibition comprises one main room showing the exhibits and a second, smaller room where visitors can view a couple of documentaries about her while sitting in a Bibendum chair (it was, to my surprise, very comfortable). There were samples of her lacquer work, plus a description, including videos, of the painstaking process of producing pieces using this natural resin. As I’d expected there were examples of her furniture, pictures of her interiors and plans, and a model, of E1027.

Architectural plan

(image from exhibition website)

No photography was allowed, and there was no guide book and very little information on the Museum’s website about the exhibition.  But it was worth the visit to see the examples of her furniture “in the flesh”.

There will be an opportunity to see more of her work in Dublin later in the year as the Paris exhibition will be transferred to the Irish Museum of Modern Art at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, when it reopens in the Autumn, starting 12 October. I hope to have the opportunity to visit it.


There’s a gallery of pictures on E1027 and it’s restoration on the Guardian website here.