Eileen Gray's Tempe à Pailla

A house is not a machine to live in... Not only its visual harmony but its entire organization, all the terms of the work, combine to render it human in the most profound sense.

Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray

Unique Stool from Tempe à Pailla

The stool presented here is one of three variations, all unique. One version is in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, and another is in a private collection in Paris. The version presented here is one of two Gray chose to live with, at Tempe à Pailla and later in her apartment on rue Bonaparte. 

Period photo of Eileen Gray’s Villa Tempe à Pailla including the present lot.
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais / Hervé Lewandowski 

Eileen Gray was born in 1878 to an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family, studied art in London and then in Paris, where she settled for the rest of her life, living in an apartment on rue Bonaparte until her death in 1976. She won lasting fame as a designer of exclusive furniture, interiors and architecture; her 1919 Dragon chair was acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and sold at auction in 2009 for $28.3 million, a world record for 20th century decorative art. 

This stool is a precious survivor, literally a modernist treasure—for it provides a direct link to the interior that Gray completed, 90 years ago, as an intimate statement on living in a modern way.

By the early 1920s, Gray had taught herself the principles of architecture. She built a legendary white villa for her mentor, the Romanian architect Jean Badovici.  Located on the rocky slopes of Cap Martin, overlooking the Mediterranean, she named it E-1027—code for her initials and his. Gray created a total work of art, modest in scale, that embodies the spirit of its era. Le Corbusier was Badovici's guest in 1938 and wrote to Gray: “Those few days spent in your house have made me appreciate that rare spirit that dictates all of its organization, both inside and outside, and has given modern furniture and equipment a form that is so dignified, so charming, and so full of wit.”

Installation view of the exhibition Eileen Gray at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1980.
Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

Eileen Gray 1879–1976

Eileen Gray was a revolutionary figure in the fields of modern design and architecture. Her body of work and personal style expressed an undisputed individuality. Born to a family of Irish nobility in 1878, she became one of the first women admitted to the Slade School of Art in London where she studied painting before beginning an apprenticeship in a lacquer workshop. She moved to Paris in 1902, where she continued her studies designing lacquered screens and decorative panels, later gaining recognition for work presented at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs in 1913. After briefly fleeing Paris during World War I, Gray was commissioned to decorate Madame Mathieu-Lévy’s apartment. The opportunity allowed her to create a complete interior environment from wall paneling to furniture and décor. In 1922 she opened the renowned Galérie Jean Désert on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and exhibited her opulent chrome, steel tube, and glass furniture collection shortly after.