Rare, Unpublished Color Photographs Paint Le Corbusier In New Light
September 28, 2012
Despite the extensive and thorough research dedicated to his life and works, it’s still difficult to separate Le Corbusier the man from the mythic artist, builder, and poet. Sure, the biographic anecdotes are well known—he awoke every morning at 6 AM to paint before ‘doing’ architecture in the afternoon; he had mommy issues, keeping up alarmingly frequent and personal correspondence with Madame Jeanneret; he may or may not have had a fleeting affair with Josephine Baker, on a steamliner no less—yet when thinking of Le Corbusier, we can’t help but summoning up images of the iconic round black glasses, the dapper impresario nervously bantering with Einstein, or even just the cartoonishly muscular silhouette of Modulor man. And all in black-and-white.
But these rare color portraits of Le Corbusier could change all that. The photographs date from 1953 and were shot by Willy Rizzo in Le Corbusier’s studio at 35 rue de Sèvres and his self-designed penthouse apartment. Only a few of them were published in 1954, but haven’t been exhibited since, until now. Continue.
The images are part of a joint exhibit by Rizzo and Fondation le Corbusier, now open at Le Corbusier’s Maison LaRoche. They depict an oddly vulnerable architect, then aged 66, and not the “Promethean spirit” or modern Michelangelo that Gideion, Blake, and Jencks depicted. Clearly at Rizzo’s whim and direction, Corbu appears both obliging and withdrawn, his gait heavy, his poise rehearsed. Here, he stands peevishly amid several of his paintings (he composed hundreds of oil canvases throughout his career); there, he glances cagily from over his shoulder, sitting at a drafting table.
Rizzo also accompanied Corbu to the Musée National d’Art Moderne for a small exhibition of his artwork. Yet, we’re treated mostly to the architect’s domestic interiors. We see Corbu lounging on a sofa reading the morning paper, preparing espresso, or bumbly feeling about for paint tubes.
At the time, Le Corbusier was involved in the most active period of his life. The second and third iterations of the Unites were being planned, and the government buildings at Chandigarh were under construction. But, here, locked away in private toil, Corbu seems tired, even nonplussed. Write the exhibit curators, “We get the feeling that he willingly let himself be told what to do during these encounters, readily complying with the photographer’s demands. We see him by turns smiling and relaxed, posing like a film star, playing the artist in a private role or at other moments seeming anxious.”