LE CORBUSIER (real name Édouard Jeanneret)
Swiss architect, painter, designer, and writer; born in 1887 at La Chaux-de-Fonds, died in 1965. Although chiefly celebrated as one of the greatest and most influential architects of the 20th century, Le Corbusier also has a small niche in the history of modern painting as co-founder (with Ozenfant) of Purism in 1918. We are not concerned here with the work of this original architect but with his important contribution to the ideas which have renewed contemporary painting. For five years, until he was eighteen, Le Corbusier was apprenticed to an engraver and was the pupil of L'Éplattenier at the art school in La Chaux-de-Fonds. When he began his architectural studies in 1905 he did not completely give up the graphic arts, and he was keenly interested in the first Cubist experiments. As an architect he did not feel that the new aesthetic doctrine agreed sufficiently with a discipline which had to be respected and cultivated if the picture was not to be debased to the level of a decorative ornament. Thus arose his idea of demanding from painting a total submission to the architectural setting destined to contain it. It was still understood, however, that the picture remained, above all, 'a machine to work upon the emotions', and the work of art 'a game'. The paintings and drawings dated 1918-1919, still signed with the name of Jeanneret, already appeared as imperious calls to a new order founded entirely on numbers and geometry.
When he founded L'Esprit Nouveau in 1920 with Ozenfant, and gave birth to what was called Purism, it was essentially with the intention of preserving Cubism from the decorative tendency which threatened to engulf it. Nevertheless, Le Corbusier did not outlaw lyricism or attempt to repress the mysterious, intimate demands of sensibility. Beginning in 1929, the human face appeared in his painting alongside the still life, the only genre he had practised till then. From then on he seemed to let his plastic imagination go adventuring, in compositions in which nudes adopted violently dramatic attitudes. Le Corbusier saved from his old Purist discipline only an absolute rejection of bewitching arabesques or facile arrangements of tones which were more particularly suited to easel painting. His work gained frescolike characteristics and began to show a development of audacious and striking shapes specially adapted to mural painting. He became a French citizen in 1930. In 1936 he executed tapestry designs for the Aubusson workshops; in them he showed a tumultuous imagination always restrained by the notion of a plan which, he felt, helped 'to avoid waste'. In short, the profoundly human side of Le Corbusier as an architect is strengthened by his feelings as a painter. If he subjects his aesthetic emotions to rules, they are not those of mathematical canons but of norms proper to a feeling human being. Apart from architecture and paintings, his enormous output included drawings, book illustrations, lithographs, tapestry designs, furniture, and numerous books, pamphlets, and articles.