I first learned of the connection between Eileen Gray & Bruce Chatwin when I was researching Time & Destiny, my fictionalised account of Gray’s life. Up to then I’d only known and admired Chatwin for his award-winning travel writing.
Intrigued, I started researching and discovered that in November 1972, Bruce Chatwin, a reporter with the Sunday Times magazine went to Paris to interview Eileen Gray. She was in the news because of the record breaking price paid by Yves Saint Laurent in an executor’s sale for her lacquer screen titled, Le Destin. The interview took place on a Sunday afternoon at her apartment in 21 rue Bonaparte, Paris.
When I set about tracking down this interview, it wasn’t in any of his anthologies: the one mention that it had taken place was the letter he wrote from his address in Sloan Avenue, London thanking her ‘for the most enjoyable Sunday afternoon I have spent in years.’ Eventually, I discovered from Bruce’s wife, Elizabeth, that the interview had never been published.
Charming and charismatic, Bruce Chatwin was more than 60 years Eileen Gray’s junior, yet over those hours they had to have discovered several examples of common ground and I like to believe forged a special bond.
When he noticed a painting of hers of Patagonia hanging on the wall, he remarked it was a place he’d like to visit. She promised the painting would be his one day and suggested he go to Patagonia for her. When he resigned from the Sunday Times he went to Patagonia and she willed him the painting. In 1977 In Patagonia was published. It changed the face of modern travel writing and brought Bruce international fame.
My wondering what happened between the retiring designer who had become an international icon, second time around and the charismatic maestro of interviews was the trigger that drove me to write The Interview.