Heidi Weber first met Le Corbusier in the summer of 1958 at Cap Martin on the Côte d’Azur. The encounter marked the beginning of a close and remarkably productive partnership between the pair.
With passion and determination, Weber embarked on a number of collaborative projects with Le Corbusier, from the successful commercial adaptation of his furniture designs to publishing his graphic works and nurturing the market for his art. ‘I had only one wish: to help Le Corbusier get the recognition he deserved for his paintings and sculptures,’ she once said. Weber also funded the construction of his last building, the Heidi Weber Museum — Centre Le Corbusier on the shores of Lake Zurich in Switzerland, which was completed in 1967, two years after Le Corbusier’s death.
Described variously as the ‘leading ambassador’, ‘spiritual heiress’ and ‘mentor’ of Le Corbusier, Heidi Weber was, in Le Corbusier’s own words, ‘a monster of perseverance, devotion and enthusiasm’. She developed an unparalleled collection of his work, from the elegant, rigidly structured Purist compositions of the late 1910s and early 1920s, to the exuberant multi-hued creations of his later years.
The diversity that characterises Le Corbusier’s oeuvre can be seen in the three oil paintings, tracing Le Corbusier’s career from the 1920s to the 1940s, and four works on paper that feature in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale and Works on Paper sales in London during 20th Century season at Christie’s (28 February to 10 March).
Although Le Corbusier regarded himself first and foremost as a fine artist, he rarely exhibited this side of his practice, choosing instead to keep it hidden from critics and a wider public. One of the first to recognise the importance of his painting, drawing and sculpture, Weber dedicated herself to the promotion and dissemination of this aspect of his work.
Created in 1926, Accordéon, carafe et cafetière (estimate: £1,500,000-2,500,000) shows the growing complexity of Le Corbusier’s pictorial vocabulary as he reached the heights of his mature Purist style.
Having co-founded Purism alongside Amédée Ozenfant in 1918, Le Corbusier spent much of the early half of the 1920s refining his still life compositions to best reflect the theories of order and purity which underpinned the movement. He reduced forms to pure geometric shapes, and minimised his use of colour to a palette of restrained hues.
Following his break with Ozenfant in 1925, however, Le Corbusier’s paintings became decidedly less rigorous in their formulation. The artist moved away from the strict geometry of forms which had characterised his earlier work, introducing increasingly dynamic shapes and bright colours. Key among the developments that occurred during this period was Le Corbusier’s expansion of the types of objects he included in his still lifes.
Produced during a period of intensive experimentation in his painting, Femme grise, homme rouge et os devant une porte (1931, estimate: £1,200,000-2,000,000) highlights the emergence of several key motifs in Le Corbusier’s work. From the voluptuous curves of the nude female body, to the symbolic open hand at its centre, the composition features a series of themes that would prove essential to Le Corbusier throughout the rest of his career.
At its heart stand two monumental figures, the man and woman of the title, their forms appearing to almost melt into one another. To their left, a fragmented bone — one of the artist’s so-called objets à réaction poétique (objects with poetic effect) — appears in a series of segments, its form almost completely abstracted as the artist explores a variety of cross-sections and different profiles. The bright colouring and amorphous forms of this portion of the painting lend the scene an almost Surrealist air, particularly when contrasted against the neighbouring figurative elements, and point towards the art of his Parisian contemporaries.
The inclusion of both this natural, found object and the human figure in Femme grise, homme rouge et os devant une porte reflects the increased importance of nature in Le Corbusier’s art at this time, as he broke away from the constraints of his earlier Purist style.
Painted over a number of years — 1927, 1938, and completed in 1944 — Nature morte et figure (estimate: £1,500,000-2,500,000) is a monumental work that, with its kaleidoscopic array of bold colours and forms, can be seen as a summation of Le Corbusier’s work as a painter and architect.
At the centre of the composition a single dark outline denotes the form of a large bottle, next to which, on the left-hand side, the statuesque figure of a woman similarly fills the entire height of the canvas. Amid a plethora of other forms, shapes and facets of colour, these two objects illustrate the two primary components of Le Corbusier’s prolific pictorial practice: the still life and the human figure. Elsewhere, a pipe and a wooden triangle — an architect’s instrument — serve as symbols of the artist himself.
Friend, confidante and patron, Heidi Weber’s relationship with Le Corbusier was truly unique. As Le Corbusier’s fame flourished in the final decade of his life, Weber’s vision and dedication to the artist played a large part in perpetuating the international renown that he enjoys today.
Highlights from Le Corbusier: Important Works from the Heidi Weber Museum Collection will be on view in Hong Kong (17-20 January), Shanghai (8 February), Beijing (11-13 February) and then London from 23-28 February.