The “Dragons” armchair is an iconic chair designed between 1917 and 1919 by the Irish architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray. It is crafted with curved brass tubes, a leather woven seat and back, a front handle, and sculpted dragon legs.
Production of the chair began in 1929 in Gray’s workshop. The chair was originally created for the Parisian apartment of Madame Mathieu Levy in 1929, and then produced to order until Eileen Gray’s death in the 1970s. During her lifetime, Eileen did not achieve much recognition for her work. However, in 2009 the Dragons chair sold for a record $22 million at Christie’s Art Auction in Paris.
Why is it so expensive?
The priciest chair was described by Christie’s auctioneers as: “In the shape of unfurling petals, upholstered in brown leather, the frame in carved wood, lacquered in orange-brown and silver, and patterned after the serpentine, intertwined bodies of two dragons, their eyes in black lacquer on a white ground, their bodies decorated in bas-relief with stylized clouds… This chair exudes all that was so personal and so magical in the first intimately expressive phase of Miss Gray’s career: startling, imaginative, subtly sculpted and elaborate, it is a masterpiece of invention and execution”.
Jennifer Goff, curator of the permanent exhibition of Gray’s work at the National Museum of Ireland, called the chair the “perfect example of the designer who created it, completely unique and quite eccentric.” This made it the highest priced designer chair ever sold at auction.
The images of dragons and clouds depicted on the chair have been compared to those found in traditional Chinese art iconography, and the flowing nature of the carved armrests has been likened to a sea monster and given to the chair their nickname of ‘Dragons’.
The Dragones chair was created to reflect the restrained sensuality of art-nouveau and can be seen in various art museum exhibitions around the world, including the MoMA in New York.
The owners of the chair
The armchair’s first owner was Gray’s patron, Madame Mathieu Levy. It was later purchased by Parisian art dealer Cheska Vallois in 1971 for $2,700, who in turn sold it to French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1973 for the same price. The chair was put up for sale as part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection in February 2009 at Christie’s auction house in Paris. The buyer was, once again, Cheska Vallois, but for a third party. He paid 22,000,000 million dollars, a record figure taking into account that the estimate prior to the sale was 2-3 million dollars.