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Screen

  • Place of origin:

    Paris, France (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1928 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Eileen Gray, born 1878 - died 1976 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood, with red and black lacquer, silver leaf and composite decoration; brass hinges
    The screen is lacquered - a highly skilled and lengthy technique where each panel was painted with at least a dozen thin layers of lacquer on a prepared wooden base. Each layer was dried in a warm, dust-free, humid environment for a day or two, then polished smooth with several grades of pumice before the next was applied. After the designs were complete, the entire lacquer surface was finally polished with graded grits of ground charcoal.
    The screen appears to have been manufactured using a traditional Japanese layer structure: Mashed fibres with clay and lacquer, various foundation layers of orange clay with lacquer and pigmented lacquer layers (no pure lacquer layers as all layers contain opaque pigments). The pigment materials used are vermilion, hematite and orpiment.
    The repairs on the red side of the screen were made in a similar way.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Prunella Clough

  • Museum number:

    W.40:1 to 8-1977

  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, room 135, case BY3, shelf EXP

  • Image in copyright

This screen was made by Eileen Gray around 1928 and was in her apartment on Rue Bonaparte in Paris until her death in 1976. Irish born Gray moved to Paris in 1902 where she spent most of her life as an designer. It was in Paris that she established her reputation as successful practitioner of lacquerwork, having studied with Northern Japanese artisan Seizo Sugawara from 1906. Gray exhibited her lacquerwork at the VIII Salon des Societe des Artistes Decorateurs in 1913, where she acquired notable and influential patrons such as the couturier Jacques Doucet. This screen shows Gray’s move away from decorative symbolism towards a more architectural abstract style.

Physical description

The wooden screen is composed of eight separate panels, held together by brass hinges.
Eight-fold Screen: wood with red and black lacquer, silver leaf, and composite decoration, brass hinges. The decorated side of the screen in lacquered in black whilst the reverse is finished in red. Geometric designs in silver foil were applied in the last few layers.

Place of Origin

Paris, France (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1928 (made)

Artist/maker

Eileen Gray, born 1878 - died 1976 (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Wood, with red and black lacquer, silver leaf and composite decoration; brass hinges
The screen is lacquered - a highly skilled and lengthy technique where each panel was painted with at least a dozen thin layers of lacquer on a prepared wooden base. Each layer was dried in a warm, dust-free, humid environment for a day or two, then polished smooth with several grades of pumice before the next was applied. After the designs were complete, the entire lacquer surface was finally polished with graded grits of ground charcoal.
The screen appears to have been manufactured using a traditional Japanese layer structure: Mashed fibres with clay and lacquer, various foundation layers of orange clay with lacquer and pigmented lacquer layers (no pure lacquer layers as all layers contain opaque pigments). The pigment materials used are vermilion, hematite and orpiment.
The repairs on the red side of the screen were made in a similar way.

Dimensions

Height: 207 cm, Depth: 1.7 cm, Width: 435 cm overall, Width: 54 cm each leaf

Object history note

Eileen Gray was one of the first Westerners to practice lacquer work learning the technique in1906 from Seizo Sugawara in Paris, a Japanese artisan from Northern Japan. Gray apprenticed herself to Sugawara for six years before showing her work publicly at the Salon Des Artistes Decorateurs in 1912.

This screen was made by Eileen Gray around 1928 and was in her apartment on Rue Bonaparte in Paris until her death in 1976. Prunella Clough remembered that the screen was in two parts in the flat of her aunt (Eileen Gray) and recalled, the parts were never put together (in a letter to Simon Jervis, Acquisition file). Although the screen was originally created in 1928 it is likely that one of the panels was re-worked at some point (possibly in the late 1960s or early 1970s) by Prunella Clough under the supervision of Eileen Gray.

By the time Eileen Gray was born in 1878, ‘Japonisme’ – the influence of the arts of Japan on those of the West was well established. From the 1850s, after two hundred years of self-imposed seclusion, Japan opened its harbours for the first time to foreign ships. Japanese objects quickly entered Europe and became hugely popular. In addition, collectors, writers, and art critics undertook many voyages to Japan in the 1870s and 1880s, leading to the publication of articles about Japanese aesthetics. Eileen Gray was the first Westerner to practice Asian lacquerwork, learning the technique from Northern Japanese artisan Seizo Sugawara in Paris from 1906. (See Caroline Constant, Eileen Gray (London; Phaidon Press, 2009), p. 9).

Gray was producing lacquer screens as early as 1912. She displayed a blue and red laquer panel, entitled 'Le Magicien de la Nuit', at the VIII Salon de la Societe des Artistes Decorateurs in 1913. Gray’s laquer work proved successful; with articles published, sales of her work and commissions. After seeing Gray’s work at the Salon in 1913, Jacques Doucet went on to purchase and commisson lacquer work by Gray. (See Peter Adam, Eileen Gray: Her Life and Work, London: Thames and Hudson, 2009, p. 40 – 43.)

In 1922 Eileen Gray opened a gallery, Galerie ‘Jean Désert’ at 217 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré where she exhibited and sold her work. At this time Gray also maintained a workshop devoted mostly to furniture and lacquer at 11, rue Genègéaud.

Historical context note

This screen was made by Eileen Gray around 1928 and was in her apartment on Rue Bonaparte in Paris until her death in 1976. Prunella Clough remembered that the screen was in two parts in the flat of her aunt (Eileen Gray) and recalled, the parts were never put together (in a letter to Simon Jervis, Acquisition file). Although the screen was originally created in 1928 it is likely that one of the panels was re-worked at some point (possibly in the late 1960s or early 1970s) by Prunella Clough under the supervision of Eileen Gray.

Descriptive line

Screen, wood with red and black lacquer, silver leaf, and composite decoration, Eileen Gray, probably France, ca. 1928

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Williams, Gareth,‘Eileen Gray’, A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Edited by Malcolm Baker and Brenda Richardson (London: V&A Publications, 1997), pp. 368 - 369 Thornton, Peter. ‘A Very Special Year: The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Furniture Acquisitions in 1977’. Connoisseur, vol 198, no 196, June 1978.
An important figure in design of the 1920s and 1930s, Eileen Gray was largely forgotten from the 1940s until 1970. Born in Ireland and trained as an artist in London, Gray moved to Paris in 1902, where she lived until her death. She studied the art of lacquer there with the Japanese master Sugawara, and even before World War I her lacquer furniture had already found an influential patron in the couturier Jacques Doucet. After the war years (which she spent with Sugawara in London), Gray expanded into interior decoration and developed a more refined, minimal, and innovative modern style in her work, which, from 1922 to 1930, she sold through her own shop, called Jean Désert. From 1922, too, Gray had active contact with the Dutch de Stijl group, whose influence moved her toward architecture with integrated interiors featuring highly refined furniture in advanced materials.
A reappraisal of Gray's work began around 1968; the sale in 1972 of Doucet's collection further enhanced her standing. In 1971 she gave the V&A two chairs, and in 1972 the Museum acquired one of the famous lacquer "Brick" screens from the Handley-Read collection. The Royal Institute of British Architects held an exhibition of Gray's work in 1973, and in 1976 her chrome, steel, and glass furniture was licensed for reproduction.
This elegant screen, which remained in Gray's Paris apartment until her death, shows her moving away from the decorative symbolism of her early lacquerware towards a more architectural, abstract, modernist style, dependent on texture, reflection, and light. The screen came to the Museum in 1977 as a gift from her niece, who had reworked areas of it under Gray's supervision around 1970. It was included in an exhibition of her work organised jointly by New York's Museum of Modern Art and the V&A in 1978-79.

Lit. Rykwert, 1972; Johnson, 1979, p. 28; Adam, 1987

Gareth Williams
Adam, Peter, Eileen Gray: Her Life and Work (London: Thames and Hudson, 2009), pp. 142 -3, and p. 260 for image.
Caroline Constant, Eileen Gray, London: Paidon Press, 2000, p.9
Johnson, Stewart, Eileen Gray: Designer 1879 – 1976 (London: Debretts, 1979), p. 28 image and front cover image.
Spalding, Frances, Prunella Clough. (Lund Humphries, 2012), pp. 168 – 206.
For information about the relationship between Pruella Clough and Eileen Gray.

Exhibition History

Precious: Objects and Changing Values (The Millennium Galleries, Sheffield 02/04/2001-24/06/2001)
A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (Victoria & Albert Museum 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)

Labels and date

Folding screen
About 1928
Designed and made by Eileen Gray (1879–1976)
Restored and possibly altered around 1970 by Prunella Clough

France (Paris)

Wood with at least two types of black lacquer and red lacquer, with silver leaf
Hinges: brass
Surface decoration: composition

Given by Prunella Clough
Museum no. W.40-1977

Eileen Gray learned the highly specialised craft of lacquer in Paris, under a Japanese master, Seizo Sugawara. She applied lacquer using standard methods but omitted the traditional, varied and complex decorative techniques.

Although a folding screen is a Japanese furniture form, the flat, mirror-like surfaces of her lacquer are unlike the subtly variegated effects of Japanese lacquer.
[01/12/2012]

Materials

Wood; Brass; Lacquer; Silver leaf

Techniques

Lacquered

Categories

Furniture; Woodwork

Collection code

FWK

Qr_O79967
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