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20th March 2024

Meredith Taylor reviews E.1027 – Eileen Gray and the House by the Sea

Meredith Taylor

Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was a creative genius and the first woman to conquer the world of architecture at a time when men controlled it all. This new film reflects on Gray’s impressive career and her stunning modernist house on the Cote d’Azur and will appeal to cineastes and lovers of art and design alike.

Unfolding as a stylish hybrid documentary E.1027 is a filmic journey into the emotional world of Eileen Gray, who was born into a large family in County Wexford, Ireland before moving to London where, after being presented as a debutante, she studied Fine Arts at the Slade and was later drawn to furniture design and architecture although her career languished in the shadows at a time when the profession was dominated by men.

In the 1920s women architects found themselves confined to designing interiors and Gray broke the mould by moving to the South of France where she found a plot of land on the water’s edge in Roquebrune – Cap Martin and fulfilled her dream of having a modernist house on the Riviera.  A self-confessed bi-sexual she lived there with her younger lover, the editor-in-chief of the journal ‘Architecture Vivante’ Jean Badovici. The two crossed paths with fellow architect Le Corbusier who comes off the worse for wear in Swiss filmmaker Beatrice Minger’s take of events. He is seen an arrogant and rather self-regarding character who muscles into Gray’s world by decorating E.1027 with his own murals.

Eileen Grey – the house at Roquebrune – Cap St Martin

Minger’s film takes us into Gray’s inner circle, a tightly knit coterie of designers that included Fernand Lager, Corbusier and his wife Yvonne. Early on Gray in the film counteracts Corbusier’s theory that a house is ‘a machine for living’  considering it more spiritual than that: ‘A place you surrender to, that swallows you up. A place you belong to”.

Gray and Jean Badovici dedicated themselves to building the E.1027 in the Roquebrune-Cap-Martin location between Monaco and Menton in 1925. Due to its rocky, cliff-hanging location, wheelbarrows had to be used to transport materials on site. Gray named the house: E for Eileen 10 for John Badovici but their idyll came to a close two years later when Gray sensed the winds of change: “I like doing things but I don’t like possessing them”. She had already bought another plot of land inland and her attention moved on to design a place in this  even more remote location.

The film then broadens its focus onto ‘Bado’ and Corbusier’s relationship, with the French architect claiming Gray’s scheme for the house was copied from his own pen design. Marking the territory he built his own wooden Cabanon alongside a little bistro near to E.1027. But the Second World War put an end to the rivalry when the German Nazi soldiers occupied the Roquebrune house riddling the walls with bullets.

In the title role Natalie Radmall-Quirke smokes her way through this intimate portrait of the artist who appears both a victim of her deep emotions and the driving  force behind her lover Badovici – in one scene a graceful dance is testament to their feelings for each other. After leaving the house Gray was forced to contend with Corbusier’s arrogance, although he appears to redeem himself by trying to find a buyer for the Roquebrune house, eventually it was sold to Swiss artist Marie Louise Shelbert who misguidedly thought Corbusier was the architect. Gray organised a funeral for Badovici but no one came.

Family money and her strong work ethic clearly allowed Gray to remain financially independent all through her life although there is never any mention of commissions outside her own designs: many of her schemes never left the drawing board until later recognition, and although her furniture now sells for astronomical prices: her chrome Adjustable Table. E.1027 is one of the flagships of modern classics in furniture history ( )The famous house had a less illustrious ending. In a final interview Gray finally appears in her nineties, emerging as an appealingly decent woman without a shred of ego.


E1027 – Murals by Corbusier


EILEEN GRAY AND THE HOUSE BY THE SEA which will celebrate its world premiere at CPH:DOX 2024 (March 13-24, 2024) in Copenhagen as part of the INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION programme.


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