Le Corbusier | The artist | The Artist
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The artist

Le Cor­bu­sier can­not be com­pre­hen­ded without inclu­ding in one’s vision of him the pain­ter, the drafts­man, the gra­phic artist. Art was the foun­da­tion that he built upon and it was his way to try things out, to deve­lop his arse­nal of forms. In art, he explo­red his con­cep­ti­ons of space, ideas which had so far never been rea­li­zed, and here he expe­ri­men­ted with the dis­so­lu­tion and recon­struc­tion of the three dimen­si­ons that could later be seen in his buil­dings and even in his urba­ni­s­tics pro­jects. The deve­lop­ment that he under­went as an artist was par­al­lel to his deve­lop­ment as an archi­tect. It is not without rea­son that he pla­ced import­ance on the state­ment that the key to his archi­tec­ture was to be found in his arti­s­tic work. 


This fact can be seen most clearly in the tran­si­tion from his first large group of works, the struc­tu­red, puris­tic works, to the works in which from the end of the 1920s onwards he expan­ded his voca­bu­lary of motifs to include the female body as well as his “objets à réac­tion poé­tique” such as seas­hells, roots, bones, and snails. Whe­reas in the 1920s Le Cor­bu­sier was still buil­ding the radi­ant, see­mingly pris­tine archi­tec­tu­ral icons like the Villa Savoye or the Weis­sen­hof-Häu­ser, star­ting in the 30s his con­struc­tions dis­play ele­ments of more sculp­tu­ral, natu­ral forms. The world of mea­su­red con­struc­tion expan­ded to include the essence of what is orga­nic, inven­ted, and imme­a­sura­ble: in some crea­ti­ons, like the cha­pel of Ron­champ, it even gains the upper hand. 


That Le Cor­bu­sier never tired of empha­si­zing that he was basi­cally and at heart a pain­ter shows that from his per­spec­tive the public never gave suf­fi­ci­ent reco­gni­tion to this fact in the light of his fame as an archi­tect. Indeed, in 1923, he faced the pro­blem that the world­wide atten­tion that the publi­ca­tion of Vers une archi­tec­ture brought him overs­ha­do­wed his signi­fi­cant suc­ces­ses as an artist. Even when pain­ters such as Pablo Picasso or Fer­nand Léger – who for a time par­ti­ci­pa­ted in Le Corbusier’s Purism move­ment – awar­ded him reco­gni­tion for his arti­s­tic work, he deci­ded initi­ally no lon­ger to exhi­bit.


Not until 1938, by this time an esta­blis­hed archi­tect, did he agree to a first solo exhi­bi­tion devo­ted to Le Cor­bu­sier the artist. Fur­ther shows fol­lo­wed, but the appre­cia­tion of the true role and signi­fi­cance of his arti­s­tic work did not become esta­blis­hed until a few years ago – forty years after Le Corbusier’s death, with the heigh­te­ned per­cep­tion and eva­lua­tion of the artist on the art mar­ket.


Over many years, the arti­s­tic work of Le Cor­bu­sier has become bet­ter known and increa­sin­gly popu­lar. This has been mani­fes­ted in exhi­bits by renow­ned muse­ums, all of which also pre­sen­ted his arti­s­tic work in con­nec­tion with his 125th bir­th­day in 2012 and the 50th anni­versary of his death in 2015: in 2013, the Museum of Modern Art in New York devo­ted an exten­sive show to LC, as did the Moderna Muset in Stock­holm, or in 2012 the Push­kin Museum in Moscow. Last year, the Centre Pom­pi­dou in Paris focu­sed on his work, and in the sum­mer of 2014, two large shows were devo­ted to him for the first time in China: in Hong Kong and Shen­zhen. In 2012, the Munich Pina­ko­thek der Moderne even con­cen­tra­ted solely on the litho­graphs of his “Poème de l’angle droit.”


T. Rabara


Le Cor­bu­sier in 1953 in the
stu­dio of his apart­ment in Paris.

© Keystone / Rue des archi­ves / Michel Sima; FLC / 2016, Pro­Lit­te­ris, Zurich