Le Corbusier | 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 / 2019, Pro­Lit­teris, Zurich