Editor: Jose Morales
New York City – One of the exhibitions that have captivated us the most so far this year has been ‘Jean-Jacques Lequeu: Visionary Architect. Drawings from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France,’ at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Six months before he died in poverty and obscurity, the architect and draftsman, Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757– 1826), donated one of the most unique and fascinating graphic oeuvres of his time to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF). The Morgan Library & Museum has been the first institution in New York City to present a selection of these works.
Born in the North of France during the reign of Louis XV, Jean-Jacques Lequeu was the recipient of an academic scholarship that allowed him to study in Paris. However, his career never took off following the French Revolution, and he ended up working as a cartographer and surveyor until 1815. Lequeu was a witness to the death throes of the ancien régime, the changes that came about after the French Revolution, and the new political order installed under Napoleon’s Empire. His work, conceived in solitude and fueled by self-study, reflects the opportunities and uncertainties of his troubled times and a concept of architecture that defied academic boundaries.
A Visionary Architect
Lequeu’s work is representative of the pre-French Revolution art period of visionary architecture. Visionary architecture is characterized by imaginative ideas of impressive buildings that have little connection with the real world, making them almost impossible for construction. For this reason, most of the dramatized work stays on paper.
Lequeu’s meticulous drawings in pen and wash incorporate highly detailed renderings of buildings and imaginary monuments in almost mythical landscapes. With the use of a magnifying glass, those inspecting his drawings will observe more closely the painstaking attention to detail by the artist. His goal was to systematically see and explain everything, from the animal to the organic, from erotic fantasy to his own visage. A solitary and obsessive man, he created the incredible worlds displayed in his drawings without ever leaving his studio, and enhanced them with characters and stories drawn from his library.
Working stealthily on his own, Lequeu produced lifelike self-portraits, plans for revolutionary monuments, erotic drawings, and over one hundred designs for imagined projects. His drawings exhibit an exceptional range of skill and creativity, and an inventiveness motivated by antiquity and the Enlightenment.
Jennifer Tonkovich, of the Morgan Library and Museum, said during the press presentation of the exhibition: “Jean-Jacques Lequeu was a builder of fantasies, an architect that we know through his drawings, not his buildings. Since many of his drawings were not proposals for actual buildings, we see his imagination unleashed. The more closely visitors look, the more details will emerge. Two hundred years after they were made, they convey to us the possibilities of architecture and the built environment.” – GM
GUILD MAGAZINE - THE ART ISSUE