Modernist design is not often associated with opulence and luxury, but Eileen Grey, an Irish lacquer artist, interior designer, and architect, combined the lavishness of art deco design with the geometric forms of the international style, creating an aesthetic of her own. Through her celebrated lacquered folding screens, expanding side tables, industrial lamps, and modernist architecture, Gray integrated stark forms and geometric decorations with luxurious materials and traditional techniques, constructing dark, sensual objects and interiors that communicated a distinctly unique modernity.
Born in 1878 to an aristocratic family, Grey was exceptionally talented. She studied with a Japanese lacquer artist for years in order to perfect the painstakingly difficult technique, experimenting with colors and textures in variations on traditional Japanese inlay decoration. Still, Gray’s work was largely overlooked until late in her career. She was overshadowed by modernists like Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius as she worked without a male mentor or partner like many better-known female artists of her time. Gray nonetheless generated an oeuvre that is gentler and more sensuous in spirit than many ofher competitors.