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Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was always ahead of her time. Thirty years after her death, she is still considered as the very essence of the Modern. Everyone has seen her furniture-including the famous Adjustable Table, the Lota Sofa, and the Tube Light-but most people don't really know the designer and architect who created them.

Born to an aristocratic family of Irish-Scottish heritage, Gray studied at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London before moving to Paris in 1902 where she continued her studies and, in a revolt against prevailing art nouveau conventions, mastered lacquer work and established the Galerie Jean Désert, where she sold her avant-garde, luxury furniture pieces intended both to fulfill a function and to inspire the spirit.

EILEEN GRAY-DESIGNER AND ARCHITECT also examines the history of her architectural creations, including E.1027, one of the most famous houses in architectural history, built in Roquebrune, France, in 1926. This modernist seaside villa-an L-shaped, flat-roofed building with floor-to-ceiling windows and a spiral staircase, utilizing natural light and ventilation-was designed, said Gray, for a "minimum of space and maximum of comfort." E.1027 has today been declared a French national monument and is presently being restored.

Using archival footage, excerpts from Gray's own writings, plus interviews with Jennifer Goff, Curator of the National Museum of Ireland, which houses a permanent Gray exhibition, Philippe Garner of Christie's auction house, and Zeev Aram, Chairman of Aram Designs in London, who today produces reproductions of Gray's furniture, EILEEN GRAY chronicles this resolutely independent designer's artistic formation and bohemian lifestyle, her extensive travels and influences, the development of her distinctive designs, and her relations with fellow artists and architects such as Jean Badovici, Seizo Sugawara and Le Corbusier.

"A wonderful introduction to the life and work of this important designer… would be most useful in collections supporting art, design, and architecture programs. The independent life Gray led makes this film of possible interest to women's studies students as well."—Sandy River, Educational Media Reviews Online

Citation

Main credits

Bundschuh, Jörg (film director)
Bundschuh, Jörg (screenwriter)
Bundschuh, Jörg (film producer)
O'Shannon, Cathal (narrator)

Other credits

Cinematographer, Roland Wagner; editor, Carmen Kirchweger; researcher, Undine Fraatz.


Docuseek subjects

Distributor subjects

Architecture
Biographies
Design
France
Ireland
US & Canadian Broadcast Rights
Women's Studies

Keywords

Eileen Gray; Eileen; Gray; architect; designer; E1027; E 1027; modernist; modernism; documentary; film; video; DVD; ; "Eileen Gray"; Icarus Films; "Eileen Gray"; Icarus Films

Final Script / Documentary: Eileen Gray – Invitation to a Voyage

 

 

 

NARRATION:

10:00:05:22

There’ll be nothing but beauty, wealth, pleasure,

With all things in order and measure.

10:00:14:02

One of Charles Baudelaire’s most well-known poems describes the longing for a far-off place.

 

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OPENING TITLES:

 

Invitation to a Voyage

 

Eileen Gray  - Designer and Architect

 

A film by Jörg Bundschuh

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NARRATION:

10:00:46:05

Just opposite Monte Carlo at Roquebrune on Cap Martin there is a mysterious villa. It’s a place with a strange and unusual history that reflects the woman who designed and built it:

10:01:02:03

Irish woman Eileen Gray definitely was one of the most interesting women of the last century. Always far beyond her time, she not only is considered one of the most influential designers, she also lived a wild and independent life breaching with old conventions.

The house she build in 1926, enigmatically named (please say E, ten, twenty-seven!!) E.1027, is considered one of the most important private homes in modern architectural history.

Eighty years later, it is dilapidated, closed to the public and in need of renovation.

10:01:39:14

Evidence of Gray’s architectural fantasy began with the front steps to the house. The villa is secluded and protected from view. Casual strollers don’t even know it’s there. This is the first time cameras have been allowed to shoot footage within these gates.

10:02:07:10

The most recent owner, a Swiss doctor, was murdered here. Squatters came later and the villa began to fall apart. The town of Roquebrune bought the house in 1999, with some saying it was purchased to preserve the wall murals by Le Corbusier rather than Eileen Gray’s architecture.

10:02:35:20

The most important modern architect Le Corbusier was so smitten with the house in the ‘thirties that he never stopped thinking about it for the rest of his life. The murals were painted following Gray’s departure, and without her permission. Le Corbusier continued his artistic appropriation of the house a few years later by building his most personal constructions, directly behind Gray’s villa.


10:03:05:18

The two artists’ houses are tangible evidence of a passionate history that included friendship, admiration, jealousy and disappointment.

10:03:20:05

Eileen Gray’s furniture, especially designed for E.1027, are sold for millions at modern auctions. Reproductions are considered avant-garde to this day.

The path that leads from this furniture, designed in the ‘twenties, traces the unconventional and independent life of a woman, who radically confessed

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:03:43:06

To create, one has to question everything.

 

NARRATION

10:03:47:08

Eileen Gray became an icon of the modern.

 

INT. PHILLIPPE GARNER

10:03:51:14

Everything about Eileen Gray´s life is highly unusual. She was born into a privileged family, she could have lived comfortably without ever having to work or focus on the need to earn a living, but she had a steely determination to follow her curiosity, to push herself to be creative. It’s interesting to see the extent to which certain causes claim her as one of theirs, the feminists, modernists, etc. What I think, one must bear in mind is the extent to which she really was her own person.

 

NARRATION

10:04:31:09

This is the small town of Enniscorthy on the southeastern coast of Ireland where Eileen was born in 1878.

10:04:42:00

Kathleen Eileen Moray was the youngest of five children born into a very unusual marriage. Her father, James McLaren Smith, was a hobby painter. When he was thirty he ran off to Italy with Eileen’s mother Eveleen, daughter of old Scottish aristocratic family.

10:05:01:01

The two married a year later and settled in County Wexford, two miles away from Enniscorthy. They moved into the family home of Brownswood.

Eileen wrote on the back of this postcard:

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:05:14:16

My mother at Brownswood original house with Mr. Colley, who saw fairies.

 

INT JENNIFER GOFF:

10:05:23:15

This was Eileen as a little baby-girl and this was Thora, this was her older sister Ethel, this was James and this was Lonsdale. There are wonderful memories that she has of the house boating on the River Slaney which literally ran just in front of the house in Brownswood.“

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:05:42:17

As a girl I adored my father, who passed on his love of art to me, and took me with him on many trips to Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Different, and yet just as impressive, was my mother whose life motto was: Never feel sorry for yourself! From the time I was eight, my father spent most of his time away from Brownswood living in Italy and Switzerland. The large house was never heated much. In spite of many servants, and being taught by private tutors, my childhood and youth were quite Spartan

 

NARRATION:

10:06:23:12

Servants occasionally found Eileen early in the morning, having spent the night lying half-frozen on two chairs in front of her mother’s bedroom door.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:06:35:00

I’m terribly shy and filled with an irrational phobia of ghosts and people. It never quite leaves me, although I’ve tried many times in vain to conquer it.

10:06:49:06

As a child, I enjoyed racing down the hill on a wheelchair. Movement and speed fascinated me throughout my life.

 

NARRATION

10:07:01:20

This is Eileen on a winter vacation, probably in Switzerland.

 

INT. JENNIFER GOFF:

10:07:11:15

It was after 1895 when the house was rebound from this beautiful and adoring simple structure which really  informed her design-ethic to this very ostentatious mock Tudor Style.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:07:24:10

The old Irish house which I loved as a child was torn down. And in its place, they put up a dreadful brick building. The family house was no longer home.
10:07:38:12
When I was fifteen, my mother inherited an uncle’s title and from then on, she called herself Baroness Gray. I didn’t think much of titles. 

 

NARRATION:

10:07:59:12

By this time, Eileen was a serious young lady and this only intensified in 1900 when she learned of her brother’s death in the South African Boer war, and then of her father’s death in Switzerland in the same year.

At the age of twentytwo, something else happened.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:08:21:21

I went to the World Fair in Paris with my mother and this trip changed my life.

 

NARRATION:

10:08:28:09

The World Fair of that year didn’t just bring to light the promises of a new century. It was a treatise for a new, positive spirit of the time, a new attitude that seemed to call into question everything that had gone before.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:08:47:13

I was thrilled. The daring new buildings, the mechanical walkways, which carried pedestrians through the city, the modern furniture on display in the new Grand Palais with its glass roof,– everything I saw here seemed to promise a breathtaking future  of wonderful change. I wrote in my diary: The future projects light, the past only shadows.

10:09:19:07

Back home I realized that the time had come to leave Ireland.

 

NARRATION:

10:09:23:00

Eileen moved to London in 1901, going to live in her family’s city residence in Kensington. She began studying at the Slade School of Fine Arts.

10:09:39:21

The Academy had an excellent and respectable reputation, with 160 young female students sharing their studios with 60 male students. Men and women were only seperated during the nude drawing classes.

10:09:50:18

A charcoal drawing by Eileen from this period.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:09:58:09

London wasn’t quite Paris, but I liked the city, the large parks, the green, and the relative calm - only the endless little townhouses made me dizzy.

 

NARRATION:

10:10:12:02

In 1900, London had six-and-a-half million inhabitants. The first underground trains were running and there were streets with electric lights. Eileen began to break free of old conventions.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:10:30:17

I loved to ride on the open platforms of horse-drawn omnibuses. It was a different life here, but the Slade was too traditional for me.

10:10:43:06

In the Victoria and Albert Museum however I discovered Asian lacquer work art and I was fascinated.

10:10:53:09

I spent my time off from school strolling the small alleys of Soho, populated by craftsmen and artists. This is where I found a workshop which made lacquered folding screens: the Charles Studio on Dean Street 92. I stood and stared for hours, and then I gathered all my courage and asked the workshop supervisor – who was a very nice man – I suppose I could never come  and work here?  And he said: But you can - of course you can . Start Monday if you like.

 

NARRATION:

10:11:25:02

Eileen learned here what would lay the foundations for her later career.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:11:37:20

By 1902 I felt ready to realize my dream: I moved to Paris. I thought I would feel better to work in Paris than anywhere else.

 

NARRATION:

10:11:49:00

By instinct she was guided to the city, which was about to become the most thrilling and creative of her time.

10:12:00:05

At the Académie Julian Eileen continued her studies together with two girlfriends from the Slade, Kathleen Bruce and Jessie Gavin.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:12:14:12

I was at an age, when most women are thinking of marriage. But in Paris I could be free, and I fell in love with Jessie, my friend from the Académie.

Sometimes she dressed as a Spaniard, with a wig and a beard. And one day when we walked in to a club, they played the Spanish national anthem for us.

 

NARRATION:

10:12:36:19

Eileen began to travel: To south of France, Spain and Algeria, where she encountered hashish and the desert for the first time.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:12:48:21

I was deeply impressed by the white, flat-roofed houses and fell in love with the light of the Mediterranean.

 

NARRATION:

10:12:59:04

But in 1905, her mother fell ill and she had to move back to London for almost two years.

10:13:06:07

When she returned to Paris Eileen bought a spacious apartment in the Rue Bonaparte, and she found Seizo Sugawara, who was a Japanese lacquer work artist.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:13:19:14

I was so happy when Sugawara came along. We decided to set up a workshop together.

I wanted to make something useful, and started creating lacquer screens in my apartment.

 

 

INT. PHILLIPPE GARNER

10:13:33:17

Eileen Gray started her career in a period that was a period in transition in the applied arts in France. Art Nouveau was on the way. Art Decor had not yet defined itself as a distinct national style and she was working finding her own style in this period where there were multiple, but none of them emphatic influences.

The lacquer works, which she created in those early years are wonderful, mystical, magical creations, one of the best examples perhaps is the screen The Milky Way. It is light-years away form the more obvious decorative styles that were so popular in Paris at the time.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:14:25:20

I couldn’t stand what was being made around 1900. My wall screens were a revolt against Art Nouveau.

 

NARRATION:

10:14:35:00

Eileen was an impatient person prone to fits of anger. Nevertheless, she showed only discipline and determination when it came to the complicated and time-consuming art of lacquer work. And she developed a mastery that would earn her the admiration of her colleagues.

 

INT JENNIFER GOFF:

10:14:54:22

This was Seizo Sugawara´s box, that came with him and it was a Chinese workman’s box and it was used for storing your tools and your powders. As you can see on the boxes it’s marked with (Or)-gold or green- gold and inside of some of the boxes we still have the actual powders of the gold leaf. Just to show. They are still in the packages with the writing on.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:15:23:01

With an old friend, Evelyn Wyld, who had come to Paris as a cellist, I embarked on a new direction. Inspired by a trip to Morocco, we learned professional wool dyeing and weaving techniques, and purchased looms from England. We rented an old printing shop in the rue Visconti, just around the corner from my apartment.

 

NARRATION:

10:15:45:18

Not long thereafter, in the same building where Balzac wrote many of his novels, carpets designed by Eileen Gray were produced and this continued for almost twenty years. In contrast to the complicated lacquer work, the carpets seemed like a profitable business.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:16:10:19

I loved everything modern and mechanical and I even flew with a pilot in a bi-plane. I got my driver’s license in 1907, and bought my first car.

10:16:26:24

In 1912, I traveled to America with my sister Thora and two girlfriends. I was awestrucked by the beauty of ocean-liners and New York’s skyscrapers.

 

 

INT. JENNIFER GOFF:

10:16:48:11

This is Eileen Gray´s vanity case, as you notice it is a gentleman’s vanity-case and I think its very reflective of her design-ethic again: if you think of women’s vanity cases of that period, they would have had embossed silver; or the Art-Decor period as well, it would have been quite highly decorated or bejewelled. This is very simple, understated and as well we have in the collection: the lacquer mirror which fits perfectly into the suitcase so I love this because its very reflective of her non-conformist personality. She was probably a feminist but without really knowing that she was a feminist.

 

NARRATION:

10:17:22:17

1913, back in Paris her luxury furniture pieces, were exhibited at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Décorateurs, and they created excitement.

10:17:37:14

Jacques Doucet, France’s reigning fashion czar  and a well-known art collector, discovered Eileen’s furniture and integrated them into his collection of modern art. The Salon included her Bilboquet table, her lacquer work framed van Gogh paintings, her small red table stood in the entrance hall, and her famous Lotus table in the Oriental Cabinet

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:18:05:08

Doucet had forced me to decorate it with silk padding. I wished I’d had scissors to cut off those dreadful pads.

 

NARRATION:

10:18:16:01

This is the four-piece folding screen Le Destin the front and the rear. Some of her best lacquer work was commissioned by Doucet.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:18:26:02

He wasn’t interested in owning anything other people had already seen. He used to take things away from me before I’d even had a chance to take a picture of them.

10:18:44:00

When the First World War started, everything changed. The cosmopolitan city of Paris, which I had come to adore suddenly, became cold and unfriendly.

To feel that we were doing something my friends and me were driving ambulances.

 

NARRATION:

10:19:03:11

In 1915, deeply troubled by her experiences with the wounded, Eileen decided to return to London.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:19:12:05

I packed all my lacquer work tools into my car, took Sugawara, and turned my back on Paris. But in 1917, I returned.

 

10:19:23:15

My last brother James died in 1919 as a result of injuries he had suffered during the war and then my mother also died. Only two sisters and me were left of our big family.

 

NARRATION:

10:19:38:07

Two years after the war had ended, Paris was as glittering as ever.

800,000 British tourists visited the city, a half million Americans joined them. And Eileen, 41 years old, received her first major interior design commission.

 

INT. PHILLIPPE GARNER:

10:19:56:16

For Madame Mathieu-Lévy, the rue de Lota apartment she was able to incorporate individual artefacts within an overall concept: lacquer panelling, the lacquer brick screens which were used in the hallway, and so we really start to see her thinking as an architect, certainly as an architect of interiors at that stage, taking her creativity one significant step further.

 

NARRATION: 

0:20:27:05

This is her famous Block screen, developed in that process. Futuristic lacquer lamps made of ostrich eggs and parchment, an Egyptian-looking snake chair, (which later Yves Saint-Laurent bought), a day bed in tobacco brown with two dark red lacquer side pieces – a forerunner of her Lota sofas and, the ultimate in elegance, the Pirogue sofa in the shape of a canoe.

10:20:58:10

The apartment in the rue de Lota was a huge success.

 

EILEEN GRAY

10:21:05:03

Now I was ready to open the Jean Desert Gallery.

 

NARRATION:

10:21:10:16

It was May 1922. And she sold her lacquer furniture and carpets here until 1930.

 

EILEEN GRAY

10:21:18:11

Jean Desert never existed. There was no such person.  And when the first letters for Monsieur Désert began to arrive. I had cards printed up with Jean Desert et E. Gray.

 

NARRATION:

10:21:32:20

Her client list included Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré, film director Réné Clair, James Joyce, the Maharaja of Indore,– and the forerunner of Piaf - the singer Damia, who became Eileen’s lover for many years.


EILEEN GRAY:

10:21:52:01

Damia drove her car around Paris with me and her pet black panther. We loved the city’s eccentric nightlife.

NARRATION:

10:22:06:00

This was the era of the lesbian community and salons with Natalie Barney, Gertrude Stein and Romaine Brooks. They all knew and admired Eileen’s work, but Eileen remained a somewhat distant individualist, even in this crowd.

 

EILEEN:

10:22:24:13

People go to rot when life gets too easy. Freedom, as I imagine it, can only be bought with an existence lived in solitude. 

10:22:39:21

In 1923 I exhibited my multi-function room, which I called Monte Carlo, for the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs. It was greeted by a storm of controversy. French press mocked me and called me Caligari’s daughter and the room a chamber of horrors.

 

INT. JENNIFER GOFF:

10:22:59:07

She was fed up and annoyed in doing commissions for clients who were dictating to her what they wanted. Eileen wasn´t having free thought. Her individuality and her uniqueness was being lost in many of her commissions. With the Monte-Carlo Room this was her chance and her opportunity to do a melange of motives, designs, her carpets, her lacquer work, her block screens and also her glass work as well on the lamp that she used. And the idea of cars and planes that we discussed already developed as well into space-age and ideas of rockets going to the moon. So she was really before her time. With the idea that this is the shell of the rocket which was done in wood with lacquer and at the top we have the lantern and the shape was made from parchment and it had this very cubic, geometric abstract motives.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:23:51:10

All I wanted was to create things that fit into our time, but people didn’t want modern things. It was so adifficult.

 

NARRATION:

10:24:03:07

By this time, however, she had been discovered by the Dutch de Stijl group. She designed this table in homage to de Stijl.

10:24:15:09

There are certain similarities to the Red-Blue chair, designed in 1918 by Gerrit Rietveld. Eileen was deeply influenced by the Dutch approach of using architecture as the basis for all applied arts.

10:24:31:18

When the de Stijl group showcased Gray’s work in their magazine, in 1924. One of the authors was Jean Badovici, a Romanian critic of architecture who lived in Paris. The two became lovers during the time that followed, and they took trips together to visit works by famous modernist architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Gropius and Le Corbusier, whose architectural manifesto influenced her strongly.

Badovici was editor of the leading Avantgard architectural magazine.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:25:05:09

Badovici said, why don´t you build a house for your furniture? First, I laughed in his face. I had always loved architecture. More than anything else. But I didn’t think I was capable of doing it myself.

 

NARRATION:

10:25:25:22

During the course of the 1920s, Eileen went on several trans-Atlantic trips, including Mexico and Peru.

 

10:25:38:16

She undertook a careful study of the ship’s cabins, fascinated by this optimization of living space. She filled her travel journals with sketches.

10:25:54:08

Starting in 1925, she made numerous trips to  the south of France in search of just the right property where she could build her own house.

10:26:05:07

After one year she found the ideal location in Cap Martin at Roquebrune.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:26:13:16

I was forty-eight years old. It took me three years to build the house. The land was right on the sea. It was secluded and could only be reached by a small footpath along the railroad tracks. The work wasn’t easy, since there were no real roads there, and all the building materials had to be transported to the construction site by wheelbarrow. I had to persuade the workers to do things they had never done before. Badovici visited now and then to offer ideas.

 

NARRATION:

10:26:49:04

For Gray, who financed the project completely herself, the house became a monument to the love she shared with Jean Badovici, fifteen years her junior, whom she had listed as the owner.

10:27:03:14

She called it (please say here E, ten, two, seven!!)  E.1027. E for Eileen, 10 for the J in Jean– J being the tenth letter of the alphabet – 2 for the B in Badovici and 7 for the G in Gray.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:27:18:24

As in music, the value of a thing is based only on how much love goes into it.

 

NARRATION:

10:27:27:02

The house breaks from the cliffs of Cap Martin like a concrete ship. A life buoy hangs from the sailcloth-draped railing of the large terrace.

10:27:39:24

The rooftop exit is a glass-and-steel construct in a poetically spiral form, rising up like a chimney towards the sky. Next to it is a mast.

10:27:52:16

Coming from the living room out onto the terrace is like coming on to the deck of a ship. The view over the garden towards the sea reveals Monaco’s coast on the horizon. The house provided the perfect stage for Badovici’s lifestyle.

made for a man who loved work, sports and the company of friends.

 

 

NARRATION:

10:28:28:12

Paris, in the office of Pierre Antoine Gatier, just a stone’s throw from Eileen Gray’s apartment in the Rue Bonaparte. This is where the renovation of E.1027 is being planned and prepared. The house has since been declared a French national cultural heritage site. The plans make clear just how unconventional the house was, and Eileen’s attention to detail in the original concept.

 

INT. PIERRE ANTOINE GATIER:

10:28:58:23

I don’t think she followed anyone else’s ideas but her own. She had a great deal of knowledge about the architectural culture of the ‘twenties and ‘thirties due to her relationship with Jean Badovici. She knew what she was doing, and knew what was going in Europe. But she reinvented architecture, recreating it for herself.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:29:23:14

Avant-garde architecture doesn’t have a soul. Things must not only look right, they must also feel right. It is about creating homes for people.

 

NARRATION:

10:29:39:09

In the garden was no swimming pool, but a sun pool.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:29:43:23

We left out a pond because it just would have drawn mosquitoes. Instead, we envisioned a kind of day bed for sunbathing, a hollow for laying in the sand, a table for cocktails and on both sides benches for sitting and chatting.

 

INT. PHILLIPPE GARNER:

10:30:01:07

There is an interesting paradox within E1027. To look at photographs of it, there is such a kind of bravura sense to it’s lines that you imagine: seeing the building will be like seeing sleekest of 1930ies ocean liners, you project a sense of how big it should be onto the images. The reality is that it is much smaller but its a perfect jewel-like house, it serves its function, has the ability to serve it’s functions exquisitely, its no larger than it needs to be. And I must say: It also sits very well within that rocky hill on which it is constructed.

 

 

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:30:50:13

I wanted to preserve the surrounding natural terraces and most of those beautiful lemon trees.

 

INT. PIERRE ANTOINE GATIER:

10:31:00:03

She respected the natural terracing of the property, but she faced the house towards the south and set the bedroom towards the east in order to be able to see the sunrise. She said that in her house, you could turn one way and look at the sea, but when you were tired of that you could turn the other way and look at the lemon trees.

 

INT. DEDIEUR:

10:31:32:08

This is the living room in E.1027. I’ve taken a somewhat unusual way of coming in, because back in 1929, when the house was built, there was a screen here which forced the visitor to go down this way, so that their view was aimed out towards the sea. And then you entered the living area and had a view of the entire room.

 

NARRATION:

10:32:08:03

Most of the E.1027 furniture can be bought today as reproductions. Zev Aram, a furniture dealer and interior designer located London, was the first to commission the reproductions. Gray, who was still alive at the time, gave him the license to do so.

 

INT. ZEEV ARAM:

10:32:28:06

The E1027 gave her the wonderful stage to really let go and develop that spirit of modernist design.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:32:39:16

Creating the Transit Chair, I was inspired by the deck chairs of Trans-Atlantic liners.

10:32:48:02

The Adjustable table I designed, because my sister Thora adored to have breakfast in bed.

 

NARRATION:

10:32:57:10

And her well-known Daybed.

 

INT. ZEEV ARAM:

10:33:01:04

Very simple and yet very sophisticated because all the details are really simple, very modernist, very Mies-ian (Mies van der Rohe like!!) up to a point and then it departs from Mies (van der Rohe) and becomes Eileen Gray. If you look at the frame also, she doesn’t want to have a leg, the leg goes down, continues along the floor, goes there, goes up and continues along there to hold the base of the sofa.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:33:38:23

In the dining room, directly off the terrace, stood my Nonconformist chair, my tribute to de Stijl.

INT. ZEEV ARAM:

10:33:46:22

So she did that sort of chair which is fantastic. If you look at the detail this way which is all angled around down there, and if you look at it this way it is just rounded with this heavy side. The beauty of it is that it’s so wonderfully comfortable, because you can just sit on it so well. You don’t need to sit like an emperor to be comfortable- it’s just a wonderful chair!

 

NARRATION:

10:34:24:10

The E.1027 house is a complete and integrated work of art, from the light switches to the roof exit, from the mirrors to the window sills. From the built-in cupboards to the hat rack. Gray didn’t just combine form, color and material, she included the effect of natural light and ventilation, which could be regulated according to season and time of day.

 

 

INT. DEDIEUR:

10:34:50:10

There was a large glass wall, a bit of Nordic architecture coming south. Back then, southern architecture used small windows to offer some protection from the sun. But Eileen Gray opened the house to the sun.

 

INT. PIERRE ANTOINE GATIER:

10:35:11:22

There is a detail which has always fascinated me, the large folding-screen windows that look out on the sea. These are windows that fold like screens.  The first design objects she created were lacquer screens. It’s the same principle she used in architecture, the folding-screen window. Her design moved right into her architecture.

           

EILEEN GRAY:

10:35:44:24

There was a map of the Dominican Islands on the wall. With a stencil printing I added

"Invitation au voyage", the title of my favourite poem written by Baudelaire and also "beau temps" - "beautiful weather" and "vas y toto", "let´s go toto", which was the name of my car.

 

INT. PHILIPPE GARNER:

10:36:05:07

I think that those words might be set to characterise her journey, a journey that was in constant search of a way of finding a spiritual dimension, a transcendental dimension to everyday objects. How could she make things which will truly inspire the spirit; and whatever she touched, there is always this beautiful balance between the ability of the object that she created to serve it’s function and the ability of that object to inspire something which is harder to define.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:36:58:08

You can never keep a look-out for happiness. It might meet you along your way, but it is always going in the opposite direction. Sometimes I recognized it.

Jean and I went our separate ways in 1932. I moved out and started construction on a new house in Castellar, behind Roquebrune.  Leaving Jean E.1027.  All I took, was the Adjustable Table.

The new house I called Tempe a Pailla.  An old saying which means that with time and straw, figs will ripen.

 

NARRATION:

10:37:35:15

The path from the house to the garden looks like a command bridge and this house again, looks something like a ship. Her architecture seems to float above the landscape. The bemused village inhabitants called it the submarine.

10:37:58:14

The southern terrace is partially roofed and functions as a second living room. Pushing the window shutters to one side opens a view of the mountains, while the sea is visible to the south. The terraces add considerable space to the small, 90-square meter house.

 

EILEEN GRAY

10:38:19:02

E1027 was for a man, who likes to entertain, Tempe a Pailla is for a woman, whos main pleasure is to work.

10:38:31:08

Again, I designed all the furniture especially for this house.

 

NARRATION:

10:38:36:04

Pieces include a foldable S-chair, with a frame made lighter through perforation. A method lifted from airplane construction. And her versatile Menton table.

 

INT. ZEEV ARAM:

10:38:48:21

One as an entertainment table and the other one, which is the higher one, for her to be able to eat at it, write letters, make her drawings etc. At the higher table she can sit on a chair and do her work with the same table. She doesn’t need two tables, but she can change according to the functions she wants to work with. The lightness is for food, for nearer the eye, and the lino on the other side, which is lower, is black because it’s not so near the eye.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:39:29:08

The natural light in the living room is regulated by metal slats. A skylight in the room adds other lighting effects. I could also watch the night sky from my bed, or let in the morning sun.

 

NARRATION

10:39:45:02

While Eileen was living in Tempe a Pailla, Le Corbusier visited E.1027 for the first time in 1938 to see his friend Badovici in Roquebrune. He later wrote to Eileen, “It would make me very happy to tell you in person how I inhaled the unique spirit  of the entire place during the days I spent in your house. A unique spirit which lends a divine, enchanting and ingenious glow to the modern furniture and installations. Yours in friendship, Le Corbusier.”

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:40:22:19

I was thrilled and proud. I had always admired Le Corbusier. And of course his work inspired me time and time again.

NARRATION:

10:40:32:08

Following his first visit to E.1027, Le Corbusier became a regular guest. He began work on the murals in 1938.

10:40:45:00

This photograph shows Badovici, Le Corbusier and his wife at dinner in front of one of his frescoes.

 10:40:54:01

Within the space of a few months, the minimalist walls of E.1027 had disappeared. Le Corbusier integrated a few of Eileen’s humorous writings, like no laughing or enter slowly, in his brightly-colored frescoes. Eileen’s permission was never requested.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:41:13:17

I became angry and depressed when I found out. It was as a kind of vandalism.

 

INT. DEDIEUR

10:41:19:08

There are two different viewpoints: Should the works by Le Corbusier be preserved here, or should they be removed and placed in a museum, and the house returned to its original condition? A panel of experts was gathered, certificates were signed, and a decision was reached that the murals would remain in the house, since they are part of the house’s history.

 

NARRATION

10:41:53:01

What could have prompted a sensitive artist like Le Corbusier to violate the work of his colleague in such a manner?

 

INT. JENNIFER GOFF:

10:42:01:04

Le Corbusier always said that a house is “a machine to live in”, “machine á vité” and Eileen always said “No, a house is not a machine in which to live in, its an extension of man’s needs. How a person slept, ate, walked, read a book was very much her main concern; and I think that was probably...not that it was unappreciated by Le Corbusier but I think it was something he was very much thriving to achieve and this little Irish woman had come along with her first architectural project and maybe had beaten to the punch or maybe pushed ahead with her ideas to the nose of her teacher.

 

NARRATION

10:42:42:18

In 1950, Le Corbusier bought a small piece of land directly behind Eileen’s house. At first, he built only a studio and a small cabin. He wrote, “I now have my castle on the Mediterranean…made for my wife.”

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:43:00:12

It was an awful shack, a horrible barrack.

It was an intrusion into my space, my private space.

 

NARRATION:

10:43:09:03

This first house was followed by five colorful modular houses, small vacation apartments with camping facilities directly next door.

 

10:43:23:04

During the Second World War Eileen was obliged to live inland in Provence - away from her beloved coast. Then she moved back into her Paris apartment.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:43:28:02

I wasn’t able to save anything from Roquebrune. My little apartment in St. Tropez was bombed by the germans  and Tempe a Pailla in Castellar was looted.

I did’t own anything worth keeping.

 

NARRATION:

10:43:41:15

She began renovating Tempe a Pailla, but the house had lost its magic for her, and she ended up selling it to the British painter Graham Sutherland.

In Paris, she worked in seclusion on new architectural projects, but these would never be realized. Among them was a large cultural center.

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:44:03:11

This project should transform and ameliorate the social conditions of the people living in provincial towns.

 

NARRATION:     

10:44:19:07

Jean Badovici, who remained all these years a close friend of Eileen, died in 1956. He didn’t leave a will behind. His estate included the house built for and paid  by Eileen Gray. A year later, Le Corbusier’s wife died as well. He then decided to try and buy Gray’s house.

10:44:41:00

The villa and its entire contents were sold at a 1960 auction to Madame Schelbert, an acquaintance of Le Corbusier, who received additional payment for the wall murals. Eileen, who only heard of the sale after it had taken place, was left empty-handed. When asked about this, she responded:

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:45:01:06

I like to put things into motion. But I despise ownership.

 

NARRATION:

10:45:10:01

On August 26, 1965, Le Corbusier went swimming, as he did every day. He never came back. He died of a heart attack in the cove directly in front of E.1027. The new owner, Madame Schelbert, had always thought that Le Corbusier himself had designed the house and its interiors, a false attribution that was repeated in many architectural and design magazines.

 

 

INT. ZEEV ARAM

10:45:42:21

She was, with all her modesty and all her shyness, there was a certain amount of...it’s not the word “regret”, a certain amount of sadness I would say, that the world just passed her by. And she was quietly in rue Bonaparte forgotten, slowly, slowly forgotten. I met her when she was 92. She was frail, small, beautifully dressed, 92, one eye, one glass was black. She was brilliant in that sense that she was not beating her chest, she would not big flourishes, big gestures but everything had a substance and I absolutely fell in love with the fact that she was substantial, she was slight and substantial.

 

NARRATION

10:46:44:11

The rediscovery of Eileen Gray and the vindication of her work began in the early ‘seventies. This was in part due to the reproduction of her furniture by Zev Aram, and also to the first major auction of her early lacquer work furniture.

 

INT. PHILIPPE GARNER

10:47:00:09

I was the person who was able to bring her the news of the results of the auction. And the news, the principal piece of news was that a piece by Eileen Gray, the Le Destin Screen had established a new world record for any piece of furniture from the Art-Deco period.

For her there was a kind of curios, amused detachment as if those pieces have been created by someone else all together, her far far younger sister let’s say she was so removed from the creations of that period. And I think that typified the Lady. Creation was a forward looking process, always for her.

 

NARRATION:

10:47:42:21

In her Paris apartment Eileen was working in the meantime with plastics and plexiglas

 

EILEEN GRAY:

10:47:50:00

Old wrecks like me are better off left alone, and everyone just wants to know about lacquer. Before you know it, you’ve been lumped together with Art Nouveau. My wall screens are a revolt against that, at least that’s how I saw them.

 

NARRATION:

10:48:05:00

Her screens show the way she had gone since she had worked with lacquer.

 

EILEEN:

You always have to work in the present, in your own time – otherwise you might as well just kill yourself now.

 

NARRATION:

10:48:22:19

Eileen assisted in the ‘seventies reproductions of her Bibendum chair. Originally she was inspired through her love of automobiles by the Michelin man.

 

 

INT. ZEEV ARAM:

10:48:40:17

And then her brilliance came in, because we had the drawings there, we had little pads and sofas to measure. She sat on the chair, she was talking about millimeters:

“About 15 millimeters wider here Mr. Aram, yes, and can you lift up the seat...about a centimeter will do! At 92, other people at 92 can hardly eat.

 

NARRATION:               

10:49:13:20

1976, at the age of 98, Eileen sendt her maid Louise out to buy timber for a table design she was working on. When Louise returned, she found her Mademoiselle unconscious having fallen in the apartment. She never recovered. Six days later on October 31st she died.

 

INT. ZEEV ARAM:

10:49:36:14

She never had that satisfaction to see all the people admiring her work again, but she died in the good old age, quite a happy lady.

 

NARRATION:

10:49:50:10

“I long for Ireland”, she wrote in a letter towards the end of her life. She spoke of her desire to see an exhibition of her work in Ireland. But she didn’t believe it would ever happen.

 

Now, however, there is a permanent exhibition devoted to her work in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

Always a pioneer over thirty years after her death, she seems to be finally getting the worldwide recognition she deserves. There have been Special Exhibitions in Vienna, Frankfurt, London and New York, E.1027 is being prepared for renovation, and her furniture can be found from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Sydney. 

 

INT. DR. WALLACE:

10:50:35:24

Later on in life I am sure she would have loved her being regarded highly in the land of her birth, as I’m sure in his secret heart of hearts James Joyce would. I would put her up there with James Joyce and John O´ Casey the great play write as three of the great icons of Irish originality in the arts in the 20th century.

 

NARRATION

10:50:58:20

The cemetery of Roquebrune, with the grave of Le Corbusier. Eileen Gray outlived her colleague, who was nine years younger, by eleven years. Nevertheless, she died mostly unnoticed by the public. Like her countryman, Oscar Wild she was buried in Père Lachaise in Paris. However, her grave no longer exists. Her heirs neglected to pay the cemetery fees.

10:51:26:10

What remains is her work, and the story of a woman who can certainly be counted among the most fascinating and influential of the twentieth century.  

10:51:37:21

And if walls could talk, they would tell of a love story. A love story with a house.

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