Monthly Archives: January 2015

Eileen Gray – A Most Modern Woman

Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray

Iconic is not a description that Eileen Gray would have been comfortable with, but with her success as a designer, creator of some of the 20th century’s most admired and sought-after works and her continued artistic influence, it is certainly justified. The (permanent) exhibition that I visited recently in the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks, is both interesting and fun – not unlike many of Gray’s clever designs.

Bibendum Chair

Bibendum Chair

Gray was born near Enniscorthy, Wexford on 9th August 1878 the youngest of five siblings. Her father, James, was a painter and he was the first to encourage her artistic interests. When she was 20 she travelled to London and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. While in London she became interested in lacquer and worked in for a time in an art shop in Soho learning the skills. Later, in Paris, she met Japanese expert Seizo Sugawara and she first exhibited her work in 1913 to critical success.

She returned to Paris after WWI having spent those traumatic years in London. A commission to decorate the apartment of Madame Mathieu Levy was completed in 1921 and brought immediate critical acclaim and financial independence. Gray had designed most of the furniture, lamps, carpets and also installed some of her famous lacquered panels. However, it was the inclusion of the Bibendum Chair for which this project is best remembered. Named after the Michelin character that advertised their tyres, the chair has become one of the most recognisable furniture designs. She was the first designer to use chrome, years before such acclaimed designers as Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. Another furniture piece, her famous Dragon Chair made between 1917-1919, was acquired by Yves Saint Laurent 1973 when Gray’s work was becoming popular yet again. This piece was sold by Christie’s in February 2009 for $28m making, it the most expensive piece of 20th century art!

E1027 Table

E1027 Table

In the 1920s she designed E1027 house in Roquebrune on the Cote d’Azur, France. The unique name is decoded as follows: E = Eileen, 10 = Jean (J is the 10th letter of the alphabet), 2 = Badovici and 7 = Gray. She designed the furniture while collaborating with Jean Badovici on structural aspects. Her circular glass, table E-1027, was inspired by the Bauhaus design movement.

Although well-known in France it is only in more recent years that Gray has been re-discovered in Ireland. In 1973 she was presented with an honorary fellowship by the Royal Institute of Architects of  Ireland and the citation noted ‘…she was probably the  sole representative from Ireland wholly immersed as an outstanding exponent in the pioneering work of the modern movement.’  A TV documentary, a new novel The Interview (by Patricia O’Reilly and the issue by An Post of a stamp (in August 2015) are going a long way to correct that position. It’s the least an icon deserves.

E1027 - Cote d'Azur, south of France

E1027 – Cote d’Azur, south of France

 

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Art, Dublin, London

The Long Room – with a great view!

The Old Library

The Old Library

As libraries go the Long Room in Trinity College is a ‘must see’ and one of Dublin’s great attractions. It is the main chamber of the Old Library (which houses the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and many other ancient manuscripts) and was built between 1712-1732. It measures an impressive 65 metres and is lined with more than forty busts of great writers, philosophers, scientists and famous former students like Jonathan Swift, William Rowan Hamilton and Edmund Burke.

Touching history

Touching history

From 1801 the library was given the right to receive a copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland, and the Long Room now holds over 200,000 books. Due to the amount books being received it was decided to extend the Long Room and the roof was raised. The construction of the distinctive, barrel-vaulted  ceiling and upper bookcases was completed in 1860. Walking among the bookcases, with their tall ladders reaching the highest shelves, is a real treat and a step back in time. With many of the books being very old conservators are kept busy caring for these priceless works.

Along the main floor glass display cabinets house exhibitions from the library’s vast collection. Exhibitions alternate every six months (April & October) with works from either Manuscripts & Archives (ancient books) or the Early Printed Books (modern books) – there is always something interesting on show. You can also see one of the last remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic that was read outside the GPO on Monday 24 April by Padraig Pearse at the start of the Easter Rising. And there is the oldest harp in Ireland that dates from the 15th century and is now the symbol of Ireland.

In the movie Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones the Jedi archives bear an uncanny resemblance to The Long Room. This led to a certain amount of controversy but no legal action was taken the college. Well, would you want to argue with the Jedi?

(Long) Room with a view!

(Long) Room with a view!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, Science

Guinness – A Dublin legend

What a deal!

What a deal!

Synonymous is defined as ‘having or expressing the same idea’ and Guinness has most certainly been that with Dublin for over 250 years.
On the 31st December 1759 Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease, at   £45 per year, for the 4-acre Rainsford brewery at St James’s Gate that had been on the market for almost ten years. The brewery now covers an area in excess of 60 acres, and having bought the original property the long-term lease is now redundant. A copy of the lease can be seen under glass on the floor of the atrium of the Guinness Storehouse.
Guinness is one of the most successful brands in the world, and is brewed in 60 countries and available in more than 120. Recent figures show annual sales of 850 million litres (1.5 billion pints!) and that is a long way from 1769 when Arthur first export of six-and-a-half barrels to Britain. Soon afterwards, in 1778, he started selling his dark beer. The most famous, porter or single stout (sometimes called ‘plain’), is remembered in Flann O’Brien’s The Workman’s Friend as ‘A pint of plain is your only man.’

That says it all!

That says it all!

Famous for its advertising campaigns that gave us ‘My Goodness, My Guinness’, and ‘Guinness is Good For You’ the opening of the Guinness Storehouse in December 2000 offers a unique experience that has made it Ireland’s top visitor attraction. Housed in the former fermentation plant the seven-storey building was the first multi-storey steel-framed construction in Ireland when it was completed in 1902. It surrounds a glass atrium that is shaped like a giant pint of Guinness. And on each floor visitors can learn about the history of Guinness; details of Arthur’s life; brewing; transport and, of course, advertising. There are numerous interactive exhibitions that really bring the ‘story of Guinness’ to life. You can even learn how to ‘pull the perfect pint’.
On the top floor, or ‘Seventh Heaven,’ is the famous Gravity Bar with its 360 degrees view over Dublin. It’s a wonderful way to end a visit, and by the noise and chatter I heard while sipping a pint it was easy to understand its popularity. Same again!

Ah, the Black Stuff - magic!

Ah, the Black Stuff – magic!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin