Friday 9 December 2016

98 facts about Eileen Gray

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Eileen Gray. Bernice Abbott Estate.
Eileen Gray. Bernice Abbott Estate.
Francesco Scianna as Jean Badovici and Orla Brady as Eileen Gray in The Price of Desire. Photo: Julian Lennon.
Marco Orsini filming at Eileen Gray's Villa for Gray Matters. Photo: MoJo Entertainment.
Orla Brady as Eileen Gray in The Price of Desire. Photo: Julian Lennon.
S-bend chair at IMMA. Photo: MoJo Entertainment.
Tempe a Paille interior. Copyright National Museum of Ireland

Eileen Gray, Ireland's most influential furniture designer, one of whose chairs sold for €25million, died in Paris in 1976 at the age of 98. Here, Mary McGuckian - writer and director of Eileen Gray biopic The Price of Desire which hits cinemas this weekend - celebrates her hero's life in 98 thoughts.

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10 obvious things you probably already know about Eileen Gray

1 She was born in Enniscorthy, Ireland on August 9, 1878.

2 She was one of the foremost interior and furniture designers of the early 20th century, with an enviable clientèle drawn from the Parisian elite.

3 She trained and excelled in Japanese lacquer work. Her screens are upheld as some of the world's finest examples of the art.

4 Her 'dragon chair' was sold at the Christie's Yves Saint Laurent Le Bergé auction in Paris for €19,500,000 - the highest price ever paid for a piece of 20th-century furniture.

5 She was bi-sexual and had a long and important love affair with Marisa Damia, one of the most famous Parisian singing stars of their day.

6 She emerged as a modernist after the first world war, acquiring first-rate self-taught architectural skills in her 40s.

7 She constructed her villa e1027 in the South of France for her then-lover Jean Badovici between 1926 and 1928 - arguably the first pieces of modernist architecture ever realised.

8 Celebrated architect Le Corbusier smattered eight large, colourful sexually charged wall murals in the house during the summer of 1938, at the invitation of Jean Badovici.

9 His seemingly concerted campaign to undo the achievement of villa e1027 cost Eileen both her intellectual and physical property rights. Her right to be recognised as its architect was finally restored by Jean Rykwert in 1968.

10 Many of the modern furniture pieces she designed for the villa remain in production to this day, including her ever-enduring 'adjustable table', commercially known as the 'e1027 table'. It was designed in 1925.

10 obscure things you may not know about Eileen Gray

11 Her birth name was Katherine Eileen Moray Smith. Her mother later inherited the title Lady Gray but Eileen eschewed the right to characterise herself as 'the right honourable' and adopted only 'Gray' as her surname.

12 One of her suitors was the Scottish poet and occultist Aleister Crowley. He claimed that they were briefly engaged in 1903 and that she was the inspiration for his poem The Star and The Garter.

13 She first rented her apartment at 21 rue Bonaparte in Paris in 1907, purchasing it in 1946. She remained resident there for almost 70 years until her death in 1976. A plaque will be unveiled there this year thanks to the persistence of the Irish Ambassador in Paris.

14 She flew across the channel with Cheron in his bi-plane in 1913, and received one of the first driving licenses issued in Paris.

15 She met with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in 1934 on a trip to Mexico with Jean Badovici. They introduced her to artist Marcel Duchamp, who and invited her to stay with him in Paris in 1939.

16 Her most commercially successful undertaking was the production of her carpet designs with Evelyn Wyld, 1910 to 1924. Dorothy Walker arranged for Donegal Carpets to produce eight of her designs again in the 1970s.

17 She closed her gallery in the rue Faubourg St Honoré in 1930 when her friend Gaby Bloch took up with Marisa Damia. Eileen Gray never quite got over the emotional betrayal, but she kept a memento of their relationship in the form of an autographed publicity photograph on her mantelpiece for the rest of her life.

18 She inspired Bruce Chatwin to write In Patagonia, and gifted him a gouache map of the territory to celebrate its success.

19 She designed a bright neon pink celluloid screen in 1931 and revisited it for production in 1975 - well ahead of punk!

20 When on her 98th birthday it was suggested she might live long enough to receive a telegram from the Queen, she said: 'But I'm an Irish nationalist!'

10 amazing things I love about Eileen Gray

21 She was an 'inventor', not an 'interpreter', always way ahead of her time.

22 She designed many rooms of her own, implementing Virginia Woolf's mantra before the writer had even put pen to paper.

23 She did not distinguish between her affections for male or female companions - her sexuality was fluid.

24 Painter, sculptor, photographer, artist, designer and architect - a renaissance artist and the Mother of Modernism.

25 She had a unique aesthetic; elegant yet essential, demanding function as well as form from her innovations.

26 She was constantly evolving in the practice of her craft artistically, philosophically, politically and practically.

27 She believed in process - an artist who never ceased practicing her craft.

28 She defined artistic integrity before the term was coined, describing the value of a piece of art in direct relation to the amount of love invested in it.

29 She had no truck with ego. Artistic fulfilment for Gray was a function of the creative act, rather than measured in applause or financial gain.

30 "Just because it's expensive, doesn't mean it's good", she said. Hence, The Price of Desire.

10 surprising things I discovered about Eileen Gray

31 Almost every major piece of furniture she designed was for somebody she loved. Her art was neither narcissistic nor motivated by self-expression.

32 She undertook four major architectural renovations in one of the most untouched medieval towns in France, Vezelay. Modernism fused with medieval long before the Louvre glass pyramid shocked our senses.

33 She designed over a hundred other unrealised architectural projects in addition to the three pieces of domestic architecture for which she is best known in the South of France.

34 She was a workaholic.

35 She was a perfectionist.

36 She loved to swim.

37 She loved to sun-bathe.

38 She loved her close friends all her life.

39 She forgave her detractors with grace and humility.

40 She had a lively sense of humour.

10 interesting things about the 'making of' the movie

41 None of Eileen Gray's Parisian interiors still exist. They were recreated for the film in a multi-functional studio-set build in Belgium.

42 The Vezelay exteriors were shot in the true location of Vezelay. The interiors also recreated in-studio in Belgium.

43 The production's art department participated in the partial restoration of villa e1027 for many months prior to shooting. Aram Design donated the production furniture to the villa.

44 The production's consultant art director, Oscar nominee Anne Siebel, is actually from Vezelay. Renaudin, whose villa Eileen Gray helped Jean Badovici renovate in the 1920s, was related to her and the production's research uncovered some previously unknown key papers and plans which confirmed the extent of Eileen Gray's work in Vezelay.

45 Orla Brady was the first and last choice to play Eileen Gray. She plays 30 to 98 years of age in English and French.

46 Vincent Perez was born in the same village as Le Corbusier - La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland.

47 Francesco Scianna played Jean Badovici in two languages which are not his mother tongue - he is of Italian origin.

48 Alanis Morissette re-interpreted Marisa Damia's most famous song On Danse A La Villette for the movie's end titles. The video has been released online.

49 Julian Lennon recreated Eileen Gray's autographed photograph of Marisa Damia with Alanis Morissette from the original archived at the National Museum. Experts confuse it with the original by Berenice Abbott.

50 The Price of Desire costume designer was Peter O'Brien's first movie.

10 key Eileen Gray relationships reflected in the movie

51 Evelyn Wyld: A life-long friend and business partner who produced Eileen Gray's carpet designs at their studio in rue Visconti.

52 Romaine Brooks: American writer Nathalie Barney's life-long companion and both eminent founding members of the Temple d'Amitié. Elsa Zylberstien plays the role of this unique American painter who suggests that the name 'Jean Desert' which Eileen Gray chose for her gallery, was not just a clever concoction to give the impression that the gallery had a male owner, but was a reference to a popular novel of the day - 'Les Dimanches de Jean Dézert' - a novel extolling the virtues of anonymity.

53 Gaby Bloch: Eileen Gray's friend and business associate who may have introduced Eileen Gray to Marisa Damia. Caitrionia Balfe plays Gaby Bloch in the movie.

54 Marisa Damia: Played by Alanis Morissette, was one of Eileen Gray's greatest loves. A gendarme's daughter who became a celebrated music-hall singer, with a voice described as "a sob mixed with a revolt." Eileen Gray dedicated one of her most famous pieces, the Mermaid Chair, to Damia.

55 Jean Badovici: Her Romanian lover played by Francesco Scianna (top right). So entwined with the house were they that they code named it - E stood for Eileen, the 10 for Jean (J being the 10th letter of the alphabet), the 2 for Badovici and the 7 for Gray.

56 Fernand Leger: Played by Dominique Pinon, a friend of Badovici who, in 1934, painted a mural on a garden wall at Badovici's house in Vezelay and started something of a trend. Le Corbusier also did his first mural at Vezelay that summer, and then turned his attention to the walls of villa e1027 to devastating effect in 1938.

57 Christian Zervos: Thanks to his friend, Jean Badovici, Christian Zervos met the publisher Albert Morancé, who was already bank-rolling Badovici's L'Architecture Vivante. It's worth noting that L'Architecture Vivante published one special edition on villa e1027 and at least eight unique publications on the subsequent work of Le Corbusier. Christian Zervos went on to found Cahiers d'Art which publication continues to this day and Fernand Leger's first wall mural which inspired Le Corbusier is now on display at the Zervos Museum in Vezelay. Worth a trip.

58 Louise Dany: Eileen Gray's country maid, turned assistant, turned companion. Louise first approached Eileen Gray for a job as her house keeper in the early 1920s and remained with her until her death more than half a century later. She is played in the film by actress and artistic director of the national theatre of Serbia Tamara Vukovic (pictured on p48).

59 Le Corbusier: By the time Le Corbusier painted his famous murals, Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici were apart, and with e1027 all to himself, Badovici had his friend 'Corbu' indulge his "furious desire to dirty the walls", as he had done in his house in Vezelay after Fernand Leger inspired them. He is played by Swiss-born Vincent Perez, one of France's best known actors.

60 Charlotte Perriand: The least substantiated supposition of the film's narrative is that Jean Badovici had an affair with designer Charlotte Perriand. Their individual biographies certainly suggest that it is possible and events such as Eileen Gray's resignation from the Congress of Moderm Architecture which Charlotte Perriand attended suggest that it was most likely - timing as these events did with the end of her romantic relationship with Jean Badovici from when she ceased to stay at villa e1027 after 1932. Le Corbusier claimed he was named co-respondent in Perriand's divorce proceedings and it is known that he was keen to have her marry his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. A little younger than Eileen Gray, she became Eileen Gray's most notable female professional contemporary. Cursory consideration of the furniture Charlotte Perriand designed for Le Corbusier's studio give the impression, piece by piece, that Le Corbusier's instruction to Charlotte Perriand was to re-design Eileen Gray's more successful pieces of modern furniture just a little beyond recognition.

10 important things in the movie that are true

61 Eileen Gray's dragon chair was bought by an anonymous bidder who gave Eileen Gray expert dealer, Cheska Vallois, carte-blanche to purchase it at whatever price it took - a cool €25,000,000 including taxes.

62 Jean-Paul Rayon visited Eileen Gray with recent slides of her villa e1027 in 1972 - she was visibly upset to see it in such disrepair.

63 Le Corbusier finagled the purchase of villa e1027 at a public auction after Jean Badovici's death in 1960. His friend Marie-Louise Schelbert bought it for a price below that which Aristotle Onasis was prepared to pay.

64 Jean Badovici had intended to put the house back into Eileen Gray's name, in recognition of the fact that she had purchased the site, designed and implemented the construction and gifted him the entire enterprise.

65 They had parted in the early 1930s but were reconciled after the second world war and Eileen Gray attended to him on his death bed.

66 Le Corbusier spent a portion of the war years collaborating in Vichy.

67 Jean Badovici spent most of the war years drinking in Vezelay.

68 Eileen Gray's house, Tempe a Paille, was badly looted during the war.

69 Badovici finally tried to reclaim authorship and aesthetic autonomy for Eileen Gray's vision from Le Corbusier in 1948. A huge row ensued on the topic of the wall murals and they never spoke again. Badovici died of liver disease in 1954.

70 Le Corbusier was found drowned by the rocks in the Mediterranean below villa e1027 on August 27, 1965. Eerily the exact day of the year we filmed the reenactment of that event in the same place.

10 key achievements of Eileen Gray's career

71 Her Lacquer Work Screens: The oft exhibited Le Destin is one of the most priceless examples of her work.

72 The Montecarlo Room: Presented at the Salon D'Automne exhibition in 1924 was so ahead of its time, critics were baffled.

73 Rue de Lota Interior: Where Eileen Gray first began to experiment with architectural forms in interiors, with the use of block screen walls.

74 Galerie Jean Desert: Her own gallery shop was as contemporary an interior design as any that might be created today.

75 Rue Chateau Briand Badovici Appartment: An extraordinary example of clever use of space in studio apartment design.

76 Renaudin, Badovici and Le Corbusier renovations: We now know that Eileen Gray played a large part in the modernisation of various properties in the medieval town of Vezelay and the telltale evidence of her influences remain on the streets of this town to this day.

77 The complete Villa e1027, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin: Incorporating almost 300 separate architectural, fixtures and fittings designs, the villa is undoubtedly the apotheosis of her life's work.

78 Tempe a Paille, Castellar: Eileen Gray's second piece of domestic architecture, designed as a retreat for herself, is an evolution of the function over form philosophy applied to her work on Villa e1027 - modern, minimalist and experimental on all levels.

79 Lou Perou, St Tropez: Eileen Gray's final vacation work, completed when she was in her late 70s, was as extraordinary an example of the juxtaposition of a preserved original stone building with a modern extension in ecological harmony with its environment as contemporary architecture would wish to study by way of example today.

80 Social Architectural projects including her Cultural and Social Center: A model for contemporary holistic approaches to environmentally sustainable and humanist-minded urban planning ideas. Exemplarily on the cutting edge of 21st-century architectural styles in practice today.

10 significant pieces of Eileen Gray furniture that feature in the movie and are still relevant today

With the unique exception of Le Corbusier's own architect's table, every piece of furniture featured in the film is an Eileen Gray design

81 The block screen: We recreated the unfinished white block screen Eileen Gray kept at her 21 rue Bonaparte apartment until her death.

82 The 'dragon chair': Or as Eileen Gray originally named it, the 'serpent chair' when it was first created was far from the dark wood framed brown leather gentleman's club style piece re-upholstered by Yves Saint Laurent, but rather a beautiful light wood, dusty pink salmon puff of an armchair.

83 Her own 'architect's table': A seminal piece in that it was designed as Eileen Gray was emerging out of her luxurious lacquer period into the rigors of functional modern design. Intricately designed to service the needs of its owner, in light wood with the clever hinges for which she became renowned, it is currently in the private collection of an Irish owner.

84 The bibendum chair: Eileen Gray's sense of humour is evident in this design inspired by the Michelin Man tyre company logo.

85 The transat chair: The ultimate sling-style deck chair, it has inspired a century of pretenders.

86 The adjustable table: One of her most iconic chrome pieces, it is worth noting that she never designed it in black as recently issued, but rather Marie-Louise Schelbert had its prototype painted this colour years later. One of the original prototypes is on display as part of the National Museum of Ireland collection curated by international expert Dr Jennifer Goff.

87 The non-conformist chair: Eileen Gray created a specific version of the chair for herself and a different version for Jean Badovici where the upholstery on the one arm side was specifically adapted to each of their respective sitting styles.

88 The day-bed: Walk into any Muji, Ikea or similar contemporary furniture production company to find the descendants of this superb example of simple multi-functional design.

89 The Jean Table: This simple cleverly extendable table is the inspiration behind a generation of functional modern dining tables.

90 The Satellite mirror and Light Bulb lamp: Right on 21st-century trend.

8 Eileen Gray projects not to miss for enthusiasts

91 The Price of Desire: The feature film opens on May 27 at the Lighthouse in Dublin, Triskel in Cork and The Eye in Galway.

92 Gray Matters: The documentary by Marco Orsini. The broadcast-length version already screened on RTÉ will screen in its longer feature length version at the Eileen Gray event in the Lighthouse Cinema at 3pm on Saturday May 28.

93 Music: The soundtrack album of Golden Globe-nominated composer Brian Byrne's original score for both films recorded with the RTÉ orchestra. It also features Alanis Morissette's rendition of Marisa Damia's classic On Danse A La Villette.

94 Movie stills: By Julian Lennon for Stoney Road Press. A limited edition box set of stills by Julian Lennon of the film's character portraits published in a limited edition box set by fine-art printers, Stoney Road Press of Ireland.

95 Book: National Museum of Ireland's curator Dr Jennifer Goff's definitive and revisionary biography Eileen Gray: Her Work and Her World, published by Irish Academic Press.

96 Exhibition: The permanent Eileen Gray Exhibition remains on view at The National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks .

97 Villa e1027: Now open to the public from May through October annually at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. This year expect an exhibition at the train station ticket entrance to the site on the evolution of the restoration of the villa.

98 Video experience: By iglu Media. A new wave video experience designed to provide a virtual emotional experience of The House that Eileen Gray built, its history and its inhabitants, all of whom had a profound influence on a century of architecture and design, none more so than Eileen Gray.

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