Saturday 21 September 2019

Through the keyhole of Eileen Gray's iconic French villa

eileen gray
eileen gray

By Darragh Clifford

Thirty-nine years after she passed away at the grand old age of 96, Enniscorthy's Eileen Gray seems to be as popular as ever.

With the high-profile release of the film 'The Price of Desire' focusing on Gray due for release later this year, 2015 is shaping up to be quite the year for the world-renowned architect and furniture designer.

Adding to the hype is the opening of Gray's famous French villa E1027, which has been painstakingly restored and opens to the public this week for the first time.

The French Riviera villa is by far the most famous building designed by Gray, and is expected to attract thousands of visitors following a 16-year project of restoration.

Gray came to the French Riviera in 1927 with her lover Jean Badovici and set about designing the romantic retreat as a hideaway from the hustle of Paris, where she had been residing.

But all did not go according to plan for the immensely private Gray, with Badovici constantly invited Parisian artists to the retreat, among them Le Corbusier.

When the couple split in 1931, Gray gave E1027 to Badovici and built a second, smaller villa further along the coast.

In 1938, Gray's relationship with Badovici and Le Corbusier escalated to boiling point after le Corbusier painted eight sexually charged murals on the walls of E1027.

Gray was furious, and so one of the most infamous spats of the art world played out, and the rift between the three never healed.

It was this juncture in Gray's life that has been brought to the big screen, with Irish actress Orla Brady playing the Enniscorthy woman.

The villa itself is a rectilinear, flat-roofed creation on stilts, designed to look like an ocean liner docked on the rugged French coastline.

Gray designed the furniture, including the Bibendum Chair, pictured left, as well as collaborating with Badovici on its structure.

During World War Two Gray was forced to evacuate from the coast of France and moved inland. After the war she discovered that E1027 had been looted.

The iconic villa fell into disrepair for much of the 20th century, but 16 years ago the first tentative steps were taken to restoring Gray's masterpiece.

The French government donated €250,000 towards the project but by 2013 the funds had dried up. It was then that British businessman Michael Likierman entered the frame, and is credited with saving the project.

'Much of the restoration was not done well,' Likierman told the Daily Telegraph last week. 'The vandalism from 1938 onwards was pretty continual.'

There is still much work to do, and Likierman plans to convert a nearby deserted villa into a visitors' centre, library and bookshop.

But this has not stopped the initial opening from creating headlines around the world, in what is another indication of the regard to which Enniscorthy's most famous daughter is held.

E1027 opened on June 26, by appointment only

Wexford People

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