It's le Corbusier, embellishing the walls of the admirably minimalist house of his neighbour Eileen Grey, in the summer of 1939.
Grey, now belatedly acknowledged as a major talent of classical modernism in design, worked almost exclusively with furniture and interiors. Not least because she was a woman in a misogynist world, she was never truly recognised in her lifetime. This house, the holiday retreat she built for herself and her lover, critic Jean Badovici, appears to have at least fascinated Corb, but given that his wall-sized doodles were done while Grey was away, and without her permission, some would say that he was jealously appropriating her architectural masterpiece.
There is increasing attention in the design literature to the general problem of devaluing the contribution of women in key practices, and indeed as in Grey's case, epochal movements in architecture. See my earlier post Inconvenient women, if you don't think that it is a problem still with us today.
Villa E-1027, it is not hard to understand why Le Corbusier might have had a love/hate relationship with it. While he had to live with his own dogmatic declaration that a house is a machine for a living in, she derided his pompous aphorism and championed the sensual pleasure of habitation. The exquisitely site-specific house was an embodiment of that confrontation with Corbusier's universalist sentiments.
The house fell into abject disrepair before its recent rediscovery and apparently successful restoration. The story, supported by other period images, is admirably captured on a couple of websites:
- First call should be Ouno, the blog of Lindsay Brown, a suitably radical Vancouver designer and writer. Read it here.
- For more emphasis on Le Corbusier painting in the nude at Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027 plus the story behind his nasty leg scar, go to The Charnelhouse, here.
Equally, I should point out that the search terms 'nudity and architecture' were not prurient; I wanted something to help me reconsider the relationship between form/structure and embelishment. Which I guess was itself motivated by the wrappers coming off Gerhy's first building in Sydney, earlier this week.
Until I get around to actually writing the blog post, I should acknowledge the entirely serious 'hits' one does find, if not quite in the abundance one hopes. The most engaging of those has been 'Looking backwards, looking forwards: delightful delays', the second chapter by Gevork Hartoonian in 'Walter Benjamin and Architecture, the book he edited. It is remarkably readable, in spite of the density of citations in the best art-historicist tradition. You don't have to rush out and buy the book; the extract that comes up on Google Books is complete. See it here.