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LE CORBUSIER, IMPORTANT WORKS FROM THE HEIDI WEBER MUSEUM COLLECTION
‘I had only one wish: to help Le Corbusier get the recognition for his paintings and sculptures which he deserved. His paintings and sculptures should become world renowned… His brilliant work should be made available to people from all levels of society’
(Heidi Weber, Le Corbusier – The Artist: Works from the Heidi Weber Collection, Zurich & Montreal, 1988, n.p.)
‘You know, Madame Weber, not even one of my best friends would have done for me what you do. You are the only person who has done anything for me’
(Heidi Weber: Anecdotes, no. 7, www.centerlecorbusier.com/en/anekdoten.html [accessed 21st December 2016])
Le Corbusier was one of the most influential architects of the Twentieth Century. From France and Belgium to India, Japan, Brazil and the United States, his innovative architecture can be found across the globe, and the influence of his pioneering theories on urban planning continues to be felt today. Yet, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, as he was known before he adopted the pseudonym Le Corbusier in 1920, was also a very prolific plastic artist, a painter, draughtsman and sculptor who sought above all to attain the application of aesthetic perfection throughout his career. Throughout his life, he painted or sketched every day. Educated as an engraver at the art school of La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland he knew how to draw with near perfect perspective his architectural and three-dimensional concepts, which then were developed into plans by his assistants. Many of them subsequently became famous architects in their own right after practising in his studio.
‘People only know me as an architect’, he once explained, ‘yet it is through my painting that I’ve arrived at architecture’ (Le Corbusier, quoted in exh. cat., Le Corbusier: Painter and Architect, Aalborg, 1995, p. 125).
For Le Corbusier, art and architecture should work in perfect synthesis, existing so as to attain a pure form of poetry. ‘The origin of my research’, he wrote, ‘has its secret in the continuous practice of (disinterested) plastic art. This is the source of my free spirit, and here you can find the possibilities for my creative evolution. Tapestries, drawings, paintings, sculptures, books, houses and town plans are, as far as I am personally concerned, one and a same manifesto of an inspiring harmony right in the middle of a new industrialised society’ (Le Corbusier, quoted in A. Ziehr, ‘The Heidi Weber Collection’, in op. cit., Zurich, 2008-09, p. 71).
As well as the visual arts and architecture, Le Corbusier was also a pioneering designer, creating pieces of furniture, lamps and even a car, many of which – thanks to Heidi Weber – became iconic emblems of modern design. A prolific writer, Le Corbusier left an impressive opus of over 50 books published during his lifetime. His theoretical texts, including the seminal Vers une Architecture of 1923, which is listed today as one of the 100 most important books of the Twentieth Century, are some of the most influential of our time. Painter, architect, designer, theoretician and philosopher, Le Corbusier’s pluralistic practice reimagined how man could live in the modern era. Just as Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man became a defining symbol of the Renaissance, so Le Corbusier’s Modulor figure (the iconic model he created to apply human proportions to the spaces we live in) is considered to be an emblem of the modern era. Occupying a distinct position within the Twentieth Century, Le Corbusier’s influence on the history of modern art and architecture is unique and far-reaching; he changed the way we see the world and how we live within it. Since 1997 Swiss bank notes have featured Le Corbusier and other internationally renowned Swiss artists such as Alberto Giacometti.
Heidi Weber first met Le Corbusier in the summer of 1958 in his cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in the South of France. This auspicious meeting marked the beginning of a close, collaborative and enormously productive partnership between the pair. With endless passion, determination and an unceasing enthusiasm, Weber embarked on a number of collaborative projects from the incredibly successful industrial and commercial adaptation of his furniture designs, to publishing his graphic works, to nurturing and developing the market for Le Corbusier’s art, and finally to personally funding and constructing his last building – the Heidi Weber Museum Centre Le Corbusier in Zurich, Switzerland. Described variously as the ‘leading ambassador’, ‘spiritual heiress’ or ‘mentor’ of Le Corbusier, Heidi Weber was, in Le Corbusier’s own words, a ‘monster of perseverance, devotion and enthusiasm’ (Le Corbusier, quoted in J.P. Jornod, ‘Heidi Weber’s Ambassadorship for Le Corbusier: Fifty Years in the Service of the Artist’s Vision’, in exh. cat., Heidi Weber: 50 Years Ambassador for Le Corbusier 1958-2008, Zurich, 2008-9, p. 15).
Although they met for the first time in 1958, Heidi Weber’s interest in Le Corbusier had developed before this encounter. Having long been interested in art, architecture and design, Swiss-born Weber had established her reputation by founding one of the leading design and furniture galleries in Zurich. Her gallery, the Studio ‘Mezzanin’, had opened in June 1957 and had fast become one of the reference sites for contemporary design in the city, and was the first to bring Charles Eames and the Knoll collection to Switzerland. It was this same year that she first saw the work of Le Corbusier during a visit to a large exhibition of the artist, Le Corbusier, Architektur Malerei Plastik Wandteppiche, held at the Kunsthaus Zurich. ‘His paintings captured me immediately’, she recalled. ‘The expressive power of his paintings overwhelmed me’ (H. Weber, Le Corbusier – The Artist: Works from the Heidi Weber Collection, Zurich & Montreal, 1988, n.p.). Her visit to this exhibition marked a turning point in Weber’s life: ‘At this point’, Naïma Jornod has written, ‘the die was cast and her destiny was inevitably linked to Le Corbusier’s… it was not a collaboration of individuals or institutions which led her this way, but the strength of her heart’ (N. Jornod, ‘Heidi Weber and Le Corbusier’, in op. cit., Zurich, 2008-9, p. 20).
Soon after this pivotal visit she bought her first piece by the artist, a collage, swapping her beloved Fiat Topolino car for the artwork – the first demonstration of the dedication to Le Corbusier’s art that would take over her life. Her next aspiration was to acquire an oil painting. She met with one of Le Corbusier’s friends, the architect Willy Boesiger, who suggested she visit the artist in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. At their first meeting, Le Corbusier immediately realised Weber’s deep passion for his work. At first, he proposed that she should work with the original design drawings for his prototype furniture. He was so impressed with her adaptation of these drawings to serial manufacturing that he then let her have a selection of paintings for an exhibition in her Zurich gallery alongside his furniture. This was to be the first of many exhibitions that she organised, each one dedicated to presenting the artist’s plastic works, and this partnership and friendship would last for the rest of Le Corbusier’s life.
One of the first to recognise the importance of Le Corbusier’s lesser-known painting, drawing and sculpture, over the course of her life she dedicated herself to the dissemination of this aspect of his work. ‘I had only one wish’, Weber later explained, ‘to help Le Corbusier get the recognition for his paintings and sculptures which he deserved. His paintings and sculptures should become world renowned…’ (H. Weber, op. cit., Zurich & Montreal, 1988, n.p.). She acquired an unparalleled collection of his work, amassing a comprehensive overview of his career. From the elegant, rigidly structured purist compositions of the late 1910s and early 1920s, to the exuberant multi-hued compositions of his later years, the astonishing diversity that characterises Le Corbusier’s oeuvre can be seen in the selection of works that feature in the Impressionist and Modern Evening and Works on Paper Sales. Presenting three oil paintings (lots X-X), watercolours, a drawing and a collage (lots X-X), this selection demonstrates the range of the artist’s plastic oeuvre. An artist who constantly defied stylistic definition, his work remains resolutely distinct from that of his contemporaries.
It was her deep belief in the importance of Le Corbusier’s work and her strongly felt desire to introduce it to a larger public that drove Weber to constantly seek new ways of disseminating his art. Becoming his publisher, she enabled him to create lithographs and engravings so that those who could not afford to buy an oil painting could still collect and enjoy his work. In 1960 Heidi Weber had the vision to build a museum designed by Le Corbusier, located on the Zürichsee lakeshore. This building would exhibit his works of art, including paintings, drawings, sculpture, tapestries and furniture in an ideal architectural environment as a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ created by the architect himself. It was the last building designed by Le Corbusier, and marked a radical change from his previous use of concrete and stone. Le Corbusier, encouraged by Weber, made for the first time extensive use of prefabricated steel elements combined with multi-coloured enamelled plates fitted to the central core, and above the complex he designed a 'free-floating' roof. In 1965 Le Corbusier died, but with Heidi Weber’s typical persistence, on 15 July 1967, the Centre Le Corbusier was officially inaugurated, soon to become known as the Heidi Weber Museum – Centre Le Corbusier.
Friend, confidante, collaborator 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, it is undeniable that Weber’s vision, temerity and dedication to the artist played a large part in perpetuating his international renown and establishing the unparalleled reputation that he enjoys today. In fact, Le Corbusier entrusted Heidi Weber with a contract to represent and sell his art exclusively for 30 years, until 1993, which gave her first option to acquire his best art for the Heidi Weber Museum collection.
In the words of Le Corbusier himself: ‘You know, Madame Weber, not even one of my best friends would have done for me what you do. You are the only person who has done anything for me’. Weber had realised and achieved all this while being a single mother, truly a precursor of her time.