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The Price of Desire

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This year a new movie will explore the complex, unconventional life of Eileen Gray, the Irish designer and self-taught architect behind E-1027, the Modernist house that for years was attributed to Le Corbusier

Gray’s life was long – she died in 1976, aged 98 – and it was colourful, dramatic, and perfectly suited for the big screen. She was born into the Irish aristrocracy but was abandoned by her Scottish painter father at the age of 11.

She was one of the first women to enrol at the Slade School of Art and was a pioneer of what would later become known as Art Deco.

She was an enthusiast for flight and was in the party which followed Hubert Latham on his (unsuccessful) cross-Channel attempt in 1909.

Two years earlier she had moved to Paris and it was in the French capital that her life would be transformed. She became a furniture designer. She exhibited her work. She had an affair with the music hall singer and actress Damia, a huge star of the day, and they would drive the streets in her car with the singer’s pet panther sitting in the back. She would later meet Romanian architect and Le Corbusier cheerleader Jean Badovici – and became his lover, too.

Gray saw her role in the development of Modernism brushed aside by chauvinist historians

Badovici persuaded Gray to take up architecture. They designed E-1027 at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin near Monaco and lived there together. He used his influential magazine, L’Architecture Vivante, to promote the design.

Then they split up and she moved out. Enter Le Corbusier: Badovici invited him to paint pornographic murals on the white walls of Gray’s house interior. He did so – in the nude.

Years of obscurity followed. Gray saw her role in the development of Modernism brushed aside by chauvinist historians. No effort was made to correct observers who assumed Corb had designed both the murals and the house whose walls they were painted on. A rehabilitation of sorts began in 1968, when Joseph Rykwert profiled her in Domus and correctly attributed E-1027 to her. In 1973 she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Institute of Irish Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects held a retrospective of her work. She died three years later.

It is the series of events in which Gray’s life became entangled with both Badovici and Le Corbusier and which resulted in her achievements being sidelined that director Mary McGuckian has dramatised in her film, The Price of Desire. Starring Orla Brady as Gray, Vincent Perez as Le Corbusier, Francesco Scianna as Badovici and Alanis Morrisette as Damia, it premieres at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in March. Fingers crossed, it will be granted a general release.

The Price of Desire, directed by Mary McGuckian, premieres at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, Dublin, 19-29 March 2015


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