Born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, the Swiss-born artist and architect better known as Le Corbusier made his name after moving to Paris in 1917. Le Corbusier’s initial object-driven Purist theories, espoused in tandem with Amédée Ozenfant, would later give way to the melodic figural compositions which would leave a lasting impact on the future generations of Abstract Expressionists.
The quest for visual harmony and synthesis of form begun in Le Corbusier’s earliest painted and architectural works continued into his ensuing oeuvre. By the early 1930s, the artist began focusing more on the human form in painting, unifying his prior object-based studies with scenes of women in what became known as his Femmes period. Painted circa 1932, Arabesques animées et chien presents an undulating tapestry of geometric angles wended around shifting forms humans and animals. Rendered in cool tones of gray, the insensate objects of the stringed musical instruments appear nearly as dynamic as the human forms against which they are thrust. The bold figure of the man in red and blue at right balances the more abstract serpentine form of the woman at left who exists in a freer pane within the composition. Compressed at the foot of the man lies a dog, who, like Le Corbusier’s beloved objects, bears witness to the surrounding disorderly world.
Existing within the artist’s broader period of Femmes, the lyrical arabesque forms seen in present work were directly inspired by Le Corbusier’s travels to Algiers and culminated in the 1932 painting La Danseuse et le petit félin, now in the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris (see fig. 1). The year 1931 marked the centennial of France’s colonial rule in Algeria and with it came a number of government-sponsored events, including conferences on the future of the capital city and its urban plans. Invited to attend the forum, Le Corbusier traveled to Algiers and was immediately captivated by the Islamic architecture and foreign shapes, objects and structures. The artist was drawn in particular to the elegant curvilinear forms and rhythms found in the arched doorways of the old town, as well as in the traditional musical instruments like the cymbalum (seen in the hands of the man in the present work). Le Corbusier’s fascination with Algiers would extend to every facet of his creative endeavors over the ensuing years, including his proposed urban infrastructure plans for the city which were characterized by the same sweeping curves as his billowy Arabesques (see fig. 2). It was such arabesque forms which invigorated and occupied the artist, who wrote in a letter from 1932: “I have worked a lot. At this time I have found a new form of expression. I am full of ideas and every evening I work late into the night” (quoted in N. Jornod & J.-P. Jornod, op. cit., p. 549).
Le Corbusier was one among many Modern artists who found great inspiration in North Africa. During his visit to Algeria in 1906 and subsequent visit to Morocco in 1912, Matisse had been enchanted by the luxuriant fabrics he encountered in the markets and on the streets, the bold patterns and draping forms of which would inform the artist’s odalisques and interiors for decades to follow (see fig. 3).
Le Corbusier’s Femmes series would prove pivotal to the development of the subsequent generation of Modern artists, influencing the Abstract Expressionists whom he’d later meet in New York, including Willem de Kooning. In his own Women series of the 1950s, de Kooning echoes not only the subject matter of Le Corbusier’s earlier works, but also the similarly abstracted and fragmented forms as rendered in mellifluous tones of pink, blue and yellow (see fig. 4).
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