Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris) (1887-1965) Baigneuse, barque et coquillage (Painted between 1934 - 1947)

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Lot 16*
Le Corbusier
(Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris) (1887-1965)
Baigneuse, barque et coquillage
£ 1,400,000 - 1,800,000
US$ 1,900,000 - 2,400,000

Lot Details
Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris) (1887-1965)
Baigneuse, barque et coquillage
signed and dated 'Le Corbusier 34 - 38 - 47' (lower right); dated 'XII 1938' (verso)
oil on canvas
100.5 x 80.7cm (39 9/16 x 31 3/4in).
Painted between 1934 - 1947


  • The work is registered in the Fondation Le Corbusier Paris with the number FLC130.

    Private collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist's estate).

    Marseille, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille, Le Corbusier et la Méditerranée, 27 June - 27 September 1987, no. 324.
    Zurich, Caratsch de Pury & Luxembourg, Le Corbusier, 23 September - 23 November 2004, no. 16.
    Geneva, Musée Rath, Le Corbusier ou la Synthèse des arts, 9 March - 6 August 2006, no. 102.

    Click here to view An Introduction to Le Corbusier's "Baigneuse, barque et coquillage" video.

    J. Petit, Le Corbusier lui-même, Geneva, 1970 (illustrated p. 224).
    N. & J. -P. Jornod, Le Corbusier (Charles Edouard Jeanneret), catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Vol. II, Milan, 2005, no. 346 (illustrated p. 812).

    If you want to attribute any importance to my architecture you need to discover the sources in my painted work, my secret search for aesthetic perfection which I have pursued my entire life.

    Le Corbusier, 1948

    Le Corbusier, born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, was without doubt one of the towering figures of the 20th century. Through his art, architecture and writings he changed the way that we saw, and affected the way that we lived. Like Leonardo da Vinci before him, his creativity knew no bounds and encompassed many disciplines which he approached with a striking clarity of vision. Le Corbusier was the definition of an interdisciplinary artist and his importance as a painter and graphic artist cannot be overestimated.

    Born in 1887 in La Chaux-de-Fonds in French-speaking Switzerland, Le Corbusier was raised in a town of watch-makers. His parents were artisans, and the young Le Corbusier soon followed suit by enrolling in the local art school. He was encouraged by his teacher, the painter and architect Charles l'Eplattenier, to pursue architecture although he remained an active and fascinated painter and draughtsman. Completing his first commission at just 18 years of age – the Villa Fallet in Chaux-de-Fonds – it was clear that the young artist was destined for great things. Le Corbusier continued to pursue architecture, and completed a number of commissions in his native Switzerland before travelling to Italy and Austria, where he encountered Palladianism and met Gustav Klimt among other things. Never feeling that he need choose between painting and architecture, Le Corbusier approached the development of his ideas in a multifaceted way.

    At this crucial moment during the first decade of the 20th century Le Corbusier was, of course, drawn to Paris. He moved there in 1908 for a couple of years, working in an architectural studio as a draughtsman. It was during this time that a ground-breaking form of painting was emerging: following the reappraisal of Cézanne's work by the new generation, Picasso and Braque would create seminal works such as Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) and Maisons à l'Estaque (1908). By 1911 a group of artists including Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger and Fernand Léger were exhibiting in the Salle 41 at the Salon des Indépendents as a formalised movement exploring the representation of three-dimensional form: Cubism was born. By the time Le Corbusier returned to Switzerland the dawn of Modernism had broken.

    Le Corbusier's journey to Rome, Pompeii, Greece and Turkey in 1911 punctuated a period where the artist returned to practising architecture back in Switzerland. He was inspired by his discovery of ancient art and architecture, and his experience of the Orient marked him deeply. He was fascinated by the Parthenon frieze, the domes of the Hagia Sofia and the compartment-like homes, decorated in mosaics, the remains of which he saw in Pompeii and Herculaneum. He returned to Paris in 1917 an established architect, full of ideas of his own Arcadia. It was at this point in his life that he met the painter Amédée Ozenfant with whom he began to paint and discuss ideas on theory. Although clearly influenced by the Cubists, the two artists together rejected what they observed as the decadence, romanticism and decorative folly of what Cubism had become. Turning away from the developments that had led to Synthetic Cubism, they expounded a new movement called Purism where all superfluity was extinguished in favour of pure communicated conception. Ozenfant and Le Corbusier extolled this new variation of Cubism in their manifesto, Après le cubsime in 1918.

    The tenets of Purism were further pursued by the two artists when they founded the avant-garde review l'Esprit Nouveau in 1920 with the poet Paul Dermée. It was also during this time that Le Corbusier took the pseudonym under which he would go on to be best known, a variation on his paternal grandmother's name. Painting, above all else, consumed Le Corbusier in the years between 1918 and 1922. While closely associated with Ozenfant, Le Corbusier also developed close relationships with a few other artists such as Fernand Léger whom he met at the Café de la Rotonde in 1920. Léger would often contribute articles to l'Esprit Nouveau, and would go on to include one of his works in the interior of Corbusier's ground-breaking Pavillion de l'Esprit Nouveau at the Paris Exhibition of 1925. The pavilion was so modern, featuring a tree growing through the glass and concrete open spaces, that the organisers built a fence around to hide it from the public gaze. These rejections and rebuttals did not slow Le Corbusier's progress – during these years he painted every morning, devoting himself to the development of his Purist conceptions. He grew ever closer to Léger, and the two artists undoubtedly influenced each other greatly during this time.

    Ozenfant and Le Corbusier went their separate ways in 1925, and for the next few years Le Corbusier was consumed by a number of important architectural commissions. He also wrote a great deal during this period, including his seminal works Vers une architecture and l'Art décoratif d'aujourd'hui, in which he declared: 'Decor is not necessary. Art is necessary' (Le Corbusier, l'Art décoratif d'aujourd'hui, Paris, 1925, p. 70). This statement was typical of the uncompromising mindset with which the artist approached each facet of his creativity. His utopia for modernising Paris, where he imagined bulldozing vast swathes of the city just north of Notre-Dame-de-Paris (known as the Plan Voisin), was understandably not taken up by city planners, but his audacious designs were nonetheless pushing the very boundaries of modernity, and seemed to be visions of another world.

    Between 1928 and 1934 Le Corbusier was commissioned to create a number of architectural projects in Moscow, Paris and Geneva such as the Immeuble Clarté and the Ville Contemporain. At the end of this period of great discovery in his architectural practice he returned to painting, this time with a new perspective and a developed style. The Second World War would prove to be a hiatus in his career as an architect, and he would not build anything until 1947. It was at this point that he began work on the present lot, Baigneuse, barque et coquillage. Painted in stages between 1934, 1938 and 1947, this work traverses the artist's war years and reveals the new sense of vitality that he experienced during this tumultuous period.

    It was during the 1930s that Le Corbusier's work really shifted away from the strict tenets of Purism towards more organic and sensual concerns. Gone were the inanimate, mass-produced bottles and carafes of the twenties: these were now replaced with objects and motifs found in nature. Le Corbusier referred to these elements as objets à la réaction poétique, or objects that provoked a kind of poetic reverie in the viewer. These included shells, beehives, bones and trees: 'These fragments of elements of nature, stones, fossils, pieces of wood, things which I picked up beside rivers, lakes, or the sea which express the physical laws of attrition, erosion, splintering, etc. have not only plastic qualities, but also very exceptional poetic wealth' (Le Corbusier, quoted in H. Weber, Le Corbusier: The Artist. Works from the Heidi Weber Collection, Zurich, 1988).

    Without question the most prominent of these images of nature would become Le Corbusier's artistic obsession throughout this decade: the female nude. Figures had been completely absent from his Purist period compositions, but by the late twenties and increasingly following his marriage in 1930 the artist embarked upon an intense examination of the body, with the female nude featuring in almost all of his works from this point on. Explaining this new preoccupation, the artist stated: 'Already since 1927, Le Corbusier started to focus on the drawing of the figure. From 1927 to 1937, he realised an enormous number of drawings... The human figure is now in all of the works in combination with objects and precise locations' (Le Corbusier, quoted in N. Jornod & J.P. Jornod, Le Corbusier, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Vol. 1, Milan, 2005, p. 426). His travels in Greece and Italy appear to return to him, and a sense of timelessness pervades compositions such as Baigneuse, barque et coquillage: we are experiencing a kind of Arcadia, where the totemic nude lies peacefully suspended between sky and sand. She is flanked by a giant conch shell, a motif already explored by Le Corbusier on a number of occasions.

    The conch was an example of the appearance of the Fibonacci sequence, or golden ratio, in nature: this had long become the cornerstone for Le Corbusier's ideas on space and aesthetics. He famously designed the 'Modulor', his anthropomorphic scale of proportions, based on this principle of scale found in nature and extolled by his predecessor da Vinci in his design for the Vitruvian man. The shell in this work is equal in scale to the monumental nude, and they both dwarf the simple outline of the boat above. This is a vision of serenity, and voluptuous sensuality. The elongated female figure with her hands rested underneath her head was first explored by the artist in a series of drawings from 1932 (such as Femme et tronc d'arbre, private collection), while this particular composition was trialled by the artist on a few occasions, initially with a tree in the place of the female figure.

    Picasso's bathers of the early thirties must have been a reference for Le Corbusier – works such as Baigneuse au ballon de plage (1932, MoMA, New York) show the same monumental female form, her voluptuousness enveloping the canvas, just as in the present work. Both artists were exploring ways of representing the life and vitality during the early years of this decade, and were combining elements of their earlier Cubist-period methods with a new interest in colour and voluminosity. Although sometimes viewed as two opposing high-points of 20th century creativity, the two painters had more in common than one might expect, and their work during this period attests to that. Indeed, Le Corbusier even owned one of the Spanish master's Cubist compositions, Still Life with a Bottle of Rum (1911, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which he bought from Ozenfant in 1921 and enjoyed as part of his private collection until his death.

    Le Corbusier's lifelong interest in transparency, and the juxtaposition of the man-made and the organic, is perfectly encapsulated in this composition. The bold cruciform structure that at once cuts through and is super-imposed by the nude and the shell recalls the clinical lines of his Purist compositions. One cannot help but be reminded of the tree growing gloriously through the concrete, glass and steel structure of the Pavillion de l'Esprit Nouveau when looking upon the blossoming nude spilling out beyond the confines of those strict defining bands of colour. The influence of his great friend Léger is also evident in Baigneuse, barque et coquillage: their shared interest in polychromy links works like this to Léger's work from the same period, such as Composition à la danseuse from 1934, where we see the same confident use of blocks of unbridled colour across a mix of organic and geometric forms. Both artists were exploring the power of colour, a real departure from their early work, and sought to explore the division of space within their canvases using dissecting bands, at once transparent and opaque.

    During the summers of 1938 and 1939 Le Corbusier was staying at Eileen Gray's staggering villa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, E-1027. Could the idyllic setting of this modernist masterpiece have reinforced in Le Corbusier a sense of idyllic peace and beauty, while creating this magnificent work? War must have seemed quite a distant concern on this rocky outcrop just west of Monte Carlo. In fact, when Le Corbusier came to decorate the interior of E-1027 after Gray's departure, we see the same monumental nudes, depicted in glorious colour against the white minimalism of the villa's interior. Despite being very badly injured in a boating accident during his stay, Le Corbusier fell in love with this corner of the Côte d'Azur, later constructing a small wooden hut along the coastal path from E-1027 that he called Le Cabanon. The present composition seems filled with the abandon of summer, with light, colour and sensuality. An unexpected influence can also be found in the works of Matisse perhaps. Le Corbusier had acknowledged the great Fauve master's work early on in his career, and being in this part of the world he must have felt the presence of the greatest painter to capture the light and colour of the South. Matisse's odalisques can be seen in Le Corbusier's monumental bather, and a dialogue perhaps exists between the two artists when one examines works by Matisse from this period, such as Daisies (1939, Arts Institute of Chicago): the bold geometric divisions, compartments containing sinuous organic elements, such as flowers, or the female nude do not fail to recall the compositional structures explored by the Swiss painter at this time.

    By 1947, when he completed the present work and the war was over, Le Corbusier set about his plans to rebuild France. He would go on to create some of the most influential, societally important architecture to have ever been conceived. Juxtaposing forms both natural and mechanical, around a founding principle of man's place in the universe, made Le Corbusier at once the most modern of visionaries and timeless in his classicism. Around 20 years after completing Baigneuse, barque et coquillage, Le Corbusier would drown in the waters off Roquebrune, but his legacy as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century was already long sealed.
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