There are hundreds of books about Le Corbusier’s architecture, but very little knowledge about the man himself. This book is an attempt to reveal Le Corbusier’s personality, his motivations, give a sense of his mind, his human relationships. Le Corbusier is a book about what Le Corbusier was like as a human being.
“The word ‘neurotic’ is an understatement for a man who when he was sixty-two years old drew a picture of himself in the nude, showing an Indian bath and water dripping off of his penis, and he sent this picture to his ninety-two year old mother.”
I am never quite sure of the meaning of the word “context.” One can talk about the context of history, in which case you would read a lot about Le Corbusier’s reaction to the world wars and politics—or lack of reaction to politics. The book is meant to be entertaining, is meant to hold your interest. If it does not hold your interest, then I have failed. I have greater admiration for Somerset Maugham as a writer than I do for most art historians. Because Maugham writes vividly, and because he reveals something about personality.
If one asked knowledgeable people whether Picasso had women in his heart, or whether Matisse was married, most can give you the answer if they know a thing or two about the subject. But in the case of Le Corbusier I have found that extremely well educated people in the fields of art and architecture have no idea for example whether Le Corbusier was married. His marriage was one of the most interesting things about him. People have their clichéd way of thinking. Some know that Le Corbusier invented his name—but they don’t know why, or when. Some people think he was French—he was Swiss. Some people think that Le Corbusier worked with his brother—he worked with his second cousin as a partner.
But it is not just straightening out the facts that I want to do. We are talking about a man who had an intensely neurotic and fascinating relationship with his mother. We are talking about a man who loved women and was extremely interested in sex, very open about sex, which is not something that people automatically expect about Le Corbusier. We are talking about a man who could be arrogant, who could be absolutely like a bolt toward people—and in the next minute could be incredibly compassionate and kind. So, I discovered this man. My task was to find as much about him as I could and then to reveal him to the readers.
I got to Le Corbusier through his letters. It took me a long time to get him. When I began the book it was like facing a vault wall in a Swiss bank. It was as if there was every effort to keep the man from being known. But it was only when I discovered that he had written very intense letters to a friend when he was young and to his mother when he was older that I got to him. I also talked with as many people as I could find who knew him first-hand. Particularly helpful to me was his doctor, who still lives in Paris and who taught me a lot.
“I hope that my readers would include anybody who loves looking at things. Because the book is about color and form, and taking color and form in direction that no one in the world ever imagined before.”
I hope that my readers would include anybody who loves looking at things. Because the book is about color and form, and taking color and form in direction that no one in the world ever imagined before. I hope the book would appeal to music lovers. Because Le Corbusier used to quote Nietzsche’s saying that architecture is fervent music, he grew up in a musical background, and many of the qualities of the spaces he made are musical. I hope the book would appeal to people who like love stories. Le Corbusier had a great and lusty affair with Josephine Baker. He had an interesting string of mistresses at the same time he had a profound attachment to his wife.
I hope that some of my readers will include people who like really neurotic behavior. And I do think the word “neurotic” is an understatement for a man who when he was sixty-two years old drew a picture of himself in the nude, showing an Indian bath and water dripping off of his penis, and he sent this picture to his ninety-two year old mother. I’d consider that fairly neurotic behavior. I hope the book would interest people who care about how the world reacted to Vichy and the government in France during the Second World War, because Le Corbusier certainly did try to work with the collaborationists. So it should appeal to a range of readers.
Nicholas Fox Weber was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and graduated from Columbia College and Yale University. He is the director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and the author of thirteen previous books, among them The Clarks of Cooperstown, Balthus, Patron Saints, and The Art of Babar. He and his wife, the novelist Katherine Weber, live in Bethany, Connecticut, and Paris. They have two daughters.