With twenty-five original works, Galerie Alexis Pentcheff
and Aktis Gallery are presenting an exclusive exhibition dedicated to one of the greatest architects of his time, Le Corbusier.
As an emblematic figure of modernity, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), is all at once: architect, urban planner, painter, sculptor, designer and poet. Intrinsically linked, his architectural language and his plastic vocabulary have had a significant influence on the 20th-century avant-garde. In search of the universal man, the Open Hands creator relentlessly explores the field of possibilities of the modern world and thus impulses a new way of living through his revolutionary urban vision and his new measurement standard, the Modulor.
The body of work presented at Galerie Alexis Pentcheff aims to highlight the richness of Le Corbusiers artistic production and its role in modern architecture. A few kilometres away from the Cité Radieuse, built by the architect in Marseille in 1952, visitors are invited to discover the essence of his creative process through this unique ensemble of graphic works.
Today internationally recognised for his architectural achievements, it is all the complexity and synergy of Le Corbusiers visionary artistic production that this pictorial proposal tries to unveil.
In his drawings, an art form that Le Corbusier considers to be fundamental, all the creative mind of the architect-artist is crystallized. Marked by his German education and his passion for cognitive sciences, sensory emotions are at the core of his work. The «acoustic» space of his paintings opens to spirituality while colour brings volumetry to the structure. Regulated by an axonometric perspective, the painting is no longer a surface but rather becomes a space in itself.
Le Corbusiers corpus of work can be divided into several periods, each one marked by distinct influences and aesthetics. From 1918 to 1925, Ch. E. Jeanneret signs multiple works grounded in purist precepts theorized with Amédée Ozenfant and in which they confer a superior, spiritual value to geometrical forms. The construction of volume is then emphasized by a palette reduced to what the two artists call the «great range» - yellow ocher, red, white, black, and ultramarine blue, to name a few.
In 1925, Le Corbusier breaks away from the movement. During this «post-purist» period, he develops a more airy and personal style, imbued with a new sensuality. In 1928, he definitely frees himself from the purist austerity and integrates human form, «objets à réaction poétique» (poetical reaction objects) and daily objects. As an evidence of his intertwined artistic language, the architect transmutes these graphic elements in his architectural work in 1933 for the Pavillon Suisse of the Cité Universitaire de Paris.
Following this emancipation, his works reveal a new vivid palette, open to new fields of experimentation. In the female form, the artist unveils his personal conflicts, focusing on his very own desires and bodies sensuality. Nevertheless, one may still perceive some recurring themes - especially order, universality, rigour and a utopian structure - persisting in his last pictorial series «Ozon», «Ubu» and «Bull».
In the «atelier de la recherche patiente» (workshop of patient research), Le Corbusier draws, paints, creates. This imaginary place actually illustrates the essence of his creative genius and demonstrates that a dissociation between his architectural and pictorial production would be impossible. Often neglected in favour of his revolutionary concrete habitations, his graphic work is however consecrated in 1962, during an exhibition organized at the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris. Yet, Le Corbusier never denied the role of painting and drawing, to which he devotes half of his day throughout his life: «I think that if we grant something to my work as an architect, it is to this secret work that we must attribute its profound virtue.»
FOCUS: A MURAL FOR JEAN BADOVICIS HOUSE IN VÉZELAY
Following a commission by his friend, the Romanian architect Jean Badovici, Le Corbusier paints a mural for his house in Vézelay in 1935. The painter Fernand Léger, is also commissioned to produce a neighboring work in the house. From this artistic cohabitation comes a dialogue between the painter and the architect, both driven by a utopian desire to create a «synthesis of the arts».
This purpose is for Le Corbusier an essential component of the «second era of Machinist civilization». Convinced by the necessity of this union and its poetic impact, the architect-artist theorises in September 1945 his concept of «espace indicible» (unspeakable space), a non-commensurable space with multiple resonances, in which all the artistic and sensory forms coexist.
For Fernand Léger, this project is the starting point of a long reflection on the aesthetical and social role of mural painting in the 1930s. Liberated from the bourgeois rigidity of easel painting, it becomes then an active member in everyday life, accessible to the people.
However, the painters and the architects perceptions of mural painting gradually move apart. Léger continues to work for the integration of painting in architecture through many international projects, for instance with Paul Nelson and Wallace K. Harrison. His political commitment dictates a new aesthetic that is clearly palpable on the worldwide art scene. Comparatively, Le Corbusier, focuses on his own research on modern housing and the synthesis of the arts.
Much more than a decorative work, the mural painted by Le Corbusier in Vézelay aims to free the surface of the wall and therefore to make it lose its own volume. Jean Badovici, with whom Le Corbusier shares his theories on spatiality along with paintings and architectures autonomy, declares: «[Le Corbusier] unleashes contemporary painting from prostitution [and] has comprehended that a painting is always a liberation. It always opens a wall. [...] Le Corbusiers painting only accuses contemporary architecture by exempting and emancipating it from itself.» (Jean Badovici in the Architecture of today, March 1937)
Nonetheless, the architects position remains slightly ambiguous. Indeed, he claims both the autonomy of his architecture, and, the integration of painting for the purpose of a genuine synthesis of the arts. This ambivalence, and at the same time, this radicality that inhabits Le Corbusier, cause few arguments, including one with André Bloc founder of the Association for a synthesis of the arts which will then end with a withdrawal of the architect from the group.
During this exhibition held in Marseille at Alexis Pentcheff Gallery, a very beautiful study of the mural painted at Jean Badovicis house in Vézelay entitled « Two Naked, Seated Women and Shell » dating from 1935, is being presented and illustrates this pictorial research.
Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, was born on October 6, 1887, in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland. In 1900, he trains as an engraver-carver in the local art school and then joins in 1904 an interior design class taught by Charles LEplattenier who then influences him to become an architect.
Le Corbusiers first artistic shock takes place in 1907, in a trip to Italy during which he discovers the Florence Charterhouse in Galluzzo and declares « I thought I could never see such a radiant interpretation of architecture [...] The harmonious organization of the individual and the collective is solved in joy, serenity and efficiency ». From this encounter, the artist develops a profound fascination for the generic space of the box, later illustrated by his theories on the «cell».
After travelling for a few years, Le Corbusier moves to Paris in 1917 and meets the painter Amédée Ozenfant in 1918 through Auguste Perret. The following year, they found the magazine Esprit Nouveau and develop several theories defining the purist art movement, which advocates for a harmonious aesthetic gained by the simplicity of geometrical forms. The first article dedicated to architecture is signed by Le Corbusier - a pseudonym that Charles-Edouard Jeanneret will keep throughout his career as an architect.
In 1922, he opens a studio rue de Sèvres in Paris with his cousin, the architect and furniture designer Pierre Jeanneret. From his articles, encounters and close friends, Le Corbusier imagines a new architectural vocabulary largely influenced by his obsessions with science and new technologies: «the machine for living» (the house), «the equipment of the house» (the furniture) and «the rest machine» (the seat).
The «Pavillon de lEsprit Nouveau», prototype of a building-villas project, presented on the occasion of the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925, represents a genuine architectural manifesto in which the domestic organization is completely redefined. The idea of the living cell is here guided by the purist ideology and a furious desire to create a complete work of art. The former imposing wooden furniture is replaced by metal equipment, governed by functionality and space saving. Hence, Le Corbusier shakes up, provokes, defies the architectural traditions and establishes in 1927 the five points of modern architecture: pilotis, free plan, free facade, ribbon windows, roof garden.
That same year, the architect meets Charlotte Perriand who will settle in his studio until 1937. They present together with Pierre Jeanneret their first series of furniture, edited by Thonet Frères, at the Salon dAutomne in 1929. Considerably involved in the international art scene, Le Corbusier is in 1928 one of the founding members of the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM for Congrés International dArchitecture Moderne).
Between 1929 and 1945, the unstable political context in France and Europe generates multiple economic and social crises and therefore creates new urban concentration constraints. While trying to solve these recent issues, the architect, designer and also painter reveals all his creative force in an innovative production, freeing himself from the purist dictates. From this, Le Corbusier unveils a more personal style, led by the idea of order, harmony and social utopia.
At the end of the Second World War, the «Modulor» principle, resulting from several years of research on spatiality of the body and urban space, becomes the keystone of his work. Hence, a typical man of 1.83 m or 2.26 m with the arm raised defines Le Corbusiers constructive harmony. Through the line, one may read the morphogenesis of the form, governed by the spatial determination of the Modulor. With the notion of «corporality», sensory experiences emanate. The artist speaks in this sense of «acoustic» paintings whose spirituality is unveiled by the symphony of plastic elements. This language, invariably linked to the lexical field of music, is reminiscent of its family propensity for this form of expression.
Among Le Corbusiers most notable buildings, the Villa Savoye (1928-1931) in Poissy remains one of the first testimonies of the two cousins radiant collaboration. The Cité Radieuse, built in Marseille in 1952 and commissioned by Raoul Dautry, is also a jewel of modern architecture within the Mediterranean landscape. The housing unit is based on the principle of harmonization between the individual and the collective, one of Le Corbusiers recurring obsessions since his discovery of Florence Charthouse. The aim of this building is to provide individual well-being through the development of each rigorously integrated cell within a functional collective structure grounded in the idea of balance and social fulfilment.
The reorganization of Chandigarh (1951-1965) in India, commissioned by Nehru, is also one of the most ambitious projects of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. The architect sees it as an «expression of the nations faith in the future». With this tremendous and ambitious urban work, he is finally able to apply his theories to an entire city. It is also the place where Le Corbusier defines the Open Hands concept - an ideological symbol, born from the Cold War context, by which a man gives and receives. It will be built eventually in 1985.
Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris died August 27, 1965 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.