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Incredible story of Irish designer Eileen Gray gets airing in Bantry

July 19th, 2016 2:25 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Author Patricia O'Reilly.

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IRISH author Patricia O’Reilly will chat about her book on Irish designer Eileen Gray, when she visits the West Cork Literary Festival this week.

Patricia’s book The Interview is based on fact and set in Paris in 1972. It explores what happened between the iconic Eileen Gray and journalist Bruce Chatwin on a damp Sunday afternoon in November. ‘Both were fascinating subjects to research and write about,’ she told The Southern Star.  

After decades of living reclusively and with failing eyesight, aged 94, Irish designer and architect, Eileen Gray was back in the news. The lacquer screen which first brought her fame in 1913 had sold at auction for ,000, which was then the highest price paid for a ‘modern’ antique.    

That same year, 32-year old Bruce Chatwin was the rising star of Fleet St. After a successful career in Sotheby’s, he joined The Sunday Times magazine as art and architectural adviser, with an unlimited expense account and choice of features. Eileen Gray was top of his list.

 ‘I wrote the book in interview format, opening with Bruce Chatwin strolling along the banks of the Seine on his way to his three o’clock appointment with Eileen at her apartment on Rue Bonaparte,’ explained Patricia.

‘Eileen Gray was born in 1878 and was Irish and aristocratic, with a title she didn’t use. She was innovative and designed until her death. Her home in the South of France is regarded in architectural circles as one of the most iconic houses of the 20th century,’ said Patricia. ‘She received commissions from clients as diverse as Argentinian beef barons and Indian maharajas.’ 

Eileen was bisexual and her best known relationship was with Damia, a nightclub singer who took Paris by storm during WWI. Later there was Jean Badovici, a penniless, Romanian architect. Bruce Chatwin, meanwhile, is considered to have changed the face of travel writing with In Patagonia, inspired by one of Eileen Gray’s paintings which on her death she willed to him. 

Patricia O’Reilly will be in conversation in the tearoom at Bantry House on Wednesday July 20th at 10am, tickets €10. 

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