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The Morgan brings Jean-Jacques Lequeu Drawings from the Bibliothèque nationale de France
Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757–1826), Geometric Map. Pen and black ink, watercolor. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Departement des Estampes et de la photographie.

NEW YORK, NY.- Six months before he died in poverty and obscurity, architect and draftsman Jean‐Jacques Lequeu (1757– 1826) donated one of the most singular and fascinating graphic oeuvres of his time to the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). The Morgan Library & Museum is the first institution in New York City to present a selection of these works. Some sixty of Lequeu’s several hundred drawings are now on view in Jean Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect, the first museum retrospective to bring significant public and scholarly attention to one of the most imaginative architects of the Enlightenment.

Lequeu’s meticulous drawings in pen and wash include highly detailed renderings of buildings and imaginary monuments populating invented landscapes. His mission was to see and describe everything systematically—from the animal to the organic, from erotic fantasy to his own visage. Solitary and obsessive, he created the fantastic worlds shown in his drawings without ever leaving his studio, and enriched them with characters and stories drawn from his library.

Lequeu dreamed of becoming an architect and began his career working on building sites, but ultimately he spent the majority of his life as a bureaucratic draftsman shifting between government offices before being retired on a meagre ministry pension. Working stealthily on his own, Lequeu produced animated self-portraits, erotic drawings, plans for revolutionary monuments, and over one hundred designs for imagined projects. His drawings demonstrate a remarkable degree of skill and creativity, as well as an inventiveness inspired by antiquity and the Enlightenment.

Born during the reign of Louis XV (r. 17151774), Lequeu was a witness to the death throes of the ancien régime, the upheavals brought about by the Revolution, and the new order established under Napoleon’s Empire. His work, created in solitude and fueled by self-study, reflects the opportunities and vicissitudes of his troubled times and a vision of architecture that defied academic boundaries.

This exhibition is curated by the Morgan’s Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator of Drawings and Prints Jennifer Tonkovich, who says “Jean-Jacques Lequeu was a builder of fantasies, an architect that we know through his drawings, not his buildings. Since many of his drawings were not proposals for actual buildings, we see his imagination unleashed. The more closely visitors look, the more details will emerge. 200 years after they were made, they convey to us the possibilities of architecture and the built environment.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a 192-page hardcover volume in French. The publication provides unique insight, both vivid and deviant, into an extraordinary time, and allows the reader to follow Lequeu on his obsessive and solitary course.

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