Eileen Gray – an Irish Rebel

Wednesday 3 January 2018

Nicholas Merchant

nicholas_merchant_ce71e1ae8df2dad3903b13aeba709bccNicholas Merchant’s career has mirrored his abiding interest in antiques. He has worked for some of the major auction houses in London, as well as running his own book business devoted to the decorative and fine arts. His particular interest is English 18th century furniture and country houses; he enjoys discussing objects, particularly in their historical context. He lectures extensively in the USA, South Africa, Europe and UK, including the V&A, as well as for the principal cruise lines. He is the Art Fund’s West Yorkshire Representative. He arranges specialist short breaks for collectors and a range of prestigious clients including groups of The Arts Society who enjoy visiting the treasures of the UK.

Please see Nicholas’ website for further information, including details of his cultural breaks.

Imagine, late 19th century Southern Ireland, a young girl of “good family”, living in an 18th century mansion, a tranquil rural existence.

It sounds idyllic, the sort of life colour supplements write about with floods of purple prose. This was the life of Eileen Gray, the subject of this lecture, as the 19th century drew to its close. In 1900 Eileen’s Mother took her to the Exposition Universelle in Paris, and as the saying goes “she never looked back”. An imaginative, and determined girl, Eileen was determined not to see Enniscorthy again. She enrolled in the Slade School of Art, progressed to learn the true art of lacquer in Paris and after the First War became one of Paris’s most recherché and sought-after designers.

Not for her the stuffed Victorian furniture of her home but for her, what we now call, “cutting-edge” design. In her studio in the rue Bonaparte she created works which rivalled all the great 20th century furniture makers of Paris. The Art Deco Exhibition of 1925 was the turning point of her life, and the world became aware of her.

Ever restless, she built in the late 20’s an extraordinary house at Roquebrunne which became the envy of one of the best-known architects of the period, Le Corbusier.

This is a fascinating story of the girl from Enniscorthy, who became one of the most innovative designers of the 20th century.


Caption: Table designed by Eileen Gray 1920s


Suggested Further Reading
The notes for this lecture can be downloaded and printed here

Below are photos of this lecture.