Gray was born as Katherine Eileen Moray Smith on 9 August 1878, near Enniscorthy, a market town in south-eastern Ireland. Her father, James McLaren Smith, was a painter who encouraged his daughter’s artistic interests. Her mother was Eveleen Pounden, a granddaughter of the 10th Earl of Moray; she became the 19th Baroness Gray in 1895, upon the death of her own mother, née Lady Jane Stuart. After that, Lady Gray, who had separated from her husband in 1888, changed her children’s surname to Gray.
In 1898, Gray attended classes at the Slade School of Fine Art, where she studied painting. While there, she met Jessie Gavin and Kathleen Bruce. In 1900 her father died and she went on her first visit to Paris with her mother where she saw the Exposition Universelle, a World’s fair that celebrated the achievements of the past century. The main style at the fair was Art Nouveau and Gray was a fan of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh which was on exhibit. Soon after, Gray moved to Paris along with her friends Gavin and Bruce from the Slade School. She continued her studies in Paris at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi. For four or five years after the move, Gray travelled back and forth from Paris to Ireland to London, but in 1905, due to her mother’s illness, she settled back in London. She rejoined the Slade but found her drawing and painting courses were becoming less satisfying.
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