Thursday, 21 March 2013

The 31 Women number Five, Eyre de Lanux. March 20 is her birthday.

Eyre de Lanux 1894-1996 - American artist, interior & furniture designer, illustrator, journalist, poet, author & art collector 
Eyre de Lanux by Carl Van Vechten
Eyre de Lanux was an artist who dropped the use of her first name, Elizabeth, in the 1920s, as it was obvious to her at the time that women artists did not get the same recognition as men. It was not so much a feminist gesture as a calculated professional decision, she knew her work would be taken more seriously if it was not generically viewed as ‘women’s work’.

Eyre de Lanux had attended the Art Students League in New York City from 1912-1915. She seemed destined for the comfortable, metropolitan life of a wealthy amateur painter and frequenter of New York salons, but it was wartime and she was a modern woman so she found herself a job, working for the Foreign Press Bureau.  She was in some ways a twentieth century renaissance woman, with diverse talents including writing, illustration and fashion as well as painting and design. She first exhibited her painting and drawing  in 1917, but by the late 1920’s she was better known as a designer of soft furnishings and one-off pieces of high quality modernist furniture, some created  in close collaboration with English designer Evelyn Wyld, with whom she set up a workshop.

Born in Pennsylvania into a wealthy family, Elisabeth Eyre married into another, which nonetheless liberated her as an artist and as a woman.  In 1918 she married writer and diplomat Pierre Combret de Lanux, who led his wife to Paris immediately after the end of WWI and she stayed for the next 20 years, while he divided his time between Paris and Geneva, where he worked with the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations.

Eyre de Lanux’ designs have been recognised as highly innovative, using modern materials in new ways, for example a sculptural table created entirely by moulding heavyweight Linoleum. As a result, though there is no record of her in art history books, her name appears in the MOMA Encyclopaedia of Design.

Eyre de Lanux was wealthy enough to amass a valuable collection of modern paintings, including work by Braque, de Chirico, Miro, and Picasso. Unfortunately she was not quite in the same financial league as Peggy Guggenheim and in the 1930’s she had to part with much of her collection, to cover her own expenses. Despite this difficulty, both her financially independent status and the freedom she gained within her very open marriage allowed this versatile artist to make her name in Paris in the 1920’s & 30’s.
She was part of the expatriate community of artists and writers, including Mina Loy, Romaine Brookes, Ezra Pound and Natalie Barney.  As her French was fluent Eyre de Lanux also mixed with French artists including the emerging Surrealists.  She was friends with Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Max Ernst and especially with surrealist poet Louis Aragon. Her lovers included Aragon and Barney.
Eyre de Lanux learned etching and fresco techniques in Paris and her teacher, in the 1920’s, was sculptor Constantin Brancusi.  She first exhibited fresco paintings in 1926 and was one of a number of artists who developed a keen interest in this ancient technique. However the twentieth century version of the fresco frequently involved painting not on newly plastered walls but on moveable panels which could be more easily exhibited.

Today her paintings are unknown and probably exist only in private collections. She is usually described as an art deco designer, though her work is severely modernist and her patterns abstract and usually geometric.  From her first exhibition in 1917, Eyre de Lanux  worked continually as a designer and artist until she lost her sight in the late 1980’s. She died at the age of 101.

Sources include:-

 the Eyre de Lanux  papers in the Smthsonian Institute, Archive of American Arts

Betsy Falman, The Survivors: Eyre de Lanux - Women'a Art Journal 

Comments and further information about Eyre de Lanux are very welcome.

You can read about each of the 31 women as their birthdays arrive, earlier ones remain on this blog.




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