Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier was one of the most important figures in 20th-century architecture, responsible for a host of landmark buildings worldwide: from the Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles in France, to the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh in India. He also worked as an artist, a writer and a designer of furniture, chairs and sofas especially.

He believed in the interconnectedness of his activity in different disciplines, saying that ‘there are no sculptors who just sculpt, no painters who just paint, and no architects who just design buildings.’

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret was born in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1887 (Le Corbusier was a pseudonym that he would adopt once his career was underway).

Towards the end of World War I, he settled in Paris, where he began to paint in earnest. This was partly down to the influence of his new friend, the artist Amédée Ozenfant, who for a few years became a close collaborator. They exhibited works together and launched a periodical called L’Esprit Nouveau, in which they advanced the doctrine of an art movement called Purism.

This was conceived partly as a reaction against Cubism and insisted on an aesthetic of order, clarity and geometric forms — or ‘mathematical lyricism’, as Ozenfant and Le Corbusier put it. Purist paintings tended to be pared-back still-lifes, featuring mass-produced objects such as glasses, bottles and plates, depicted in an impersonal manner.

Le Corbusier continued to paint throughout his career. By the late-1920s, he had moved on radically from Purism, however, and begun to adopt a freer, more colourful style. His pictorial arrangements grew more complex too. Objects from the natural world appeared, such as rocks, shells and bones — as, most strikingly of all, did female figures, often in the nude.

In many cases, they were given distorted organic forms that veer towards abstraction. It might be said that these forms, to some extent, anticipated those taken by the buildings that he designed in his later years, such as Notre-Dame du Haut chapel in Ronchamp, France.

In 1964, Le Corbusier was named a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour by the French state. He died a year later, aged 77.