The Enigmatic Architectural Fantasies Of Jean-Jacques Lequeu

Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Il est libre-1798-1799
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Il est libre-1798-1799

The figure of Jean-Jacques Lequeu, with his bizarre architectural fantasies, disconcerting self portraits and obscenely lascivious figures is an enigma. In some respects Lequeu seems very much of his time, a Utopian Neoclassical architect working in the tradition established by his more famous revolutionary contemporaries Claude-Nicholas Ledoux and Étienne-Louis Boullée, whose visions also largely existed only on paper, forever unbuilt, and yet also strangely Modern, indeed Post-Modern. This Proto-Surrealist aspect of Lequeu led one art critic to conjecture that Marcel Duchamp himself altered  Lequeu’s work while working in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in order to create a suitable precursor as well as enacting some form of recondite revenge on Le Corbusier. Unfortunately for this rather droll conspiracy theory, Duchamp worked at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and not at the Bibliothèque nationale.

The little we do know about Lequeu does nothing to dispel the mystery. Born in Rouen he worked under several architects in that city, carrying out projects on civil and religious buildings. He won a scholarship to study in Paris where he remained for the rest of his life, living above a brothel. He prepared a book that was to remain unpublished, Architecture Civile; however the projected buildings and gardens with their phantasmagorical blending of Classical, Egyptian and Chinese styles, monstrous Rococo excesses of ornamentation and wanton disregard of expense bore no relation to prosaic reality and Lequeu’s career stalled. He found work in the civil service as a surveyor and cartographer until his retirement in 1815. During the Revolutionary period he entered competitions organised by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where the various architects out-did each other in envisaging ever more grandiose schemes. 

Towards the end of his life Lequeu, finding himself broke tried to sell his drawings without success and decided to donate 800 works to the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Dying in penury in 1826 it is discovered that his wardrobe contains a large collection of expensive women’s clothing, quite in keeping as Lequeu had produced two self portraits in drag.

The more explicit pornographic material mouldered in the the Enfer (Hell) section of the library. The Petit Palais, Paris recently held the first ever retrospective and the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, has the entire Lequeu oeuvre online.

I have below some of the mind melting architectural drawings, a few of the startling self portraits and a little of the explicit erotica, though in a sense almost everything, especially architecture, is erotic and libertine in Lequeu’s work.

Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Dairy
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Dairy
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Gate of a Hunting Ground
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Gate of a Hunting Ground
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Grove of Aurora
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Grove of Aurora
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Temple of the Sun
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Temple of the Sun-Persian Sanctuary 
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Chamber of Madame de Montholon
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Chamber of Madame de Montholon
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Le Grand Bailleur
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Le Grand Bailleur
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Le Gouter
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Le Gouter
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Frontispiece
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Frontispiece
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-The Nun
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-The Nun
Jean-Jacques Lequeu
Jean-Jacques Lequeu
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Le Sage Prevoyance
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-Le Sage Prevoyance
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-La Sauvage blanche
Jean-Jacques Lequeu-La Sauvage blanche

 

 

 

26 thoughts on “The Enigmatic Architectural Fantasies Of Jean-Jacques Lequeu

  1. Lequeu’s art, though bizarre, is quite beautiful. His architectural design defies convention with its fantasy and extravagance. Quite a find Mr. Cake, I plan to visit the link you’ve provided. My curiosity definitely aroused.

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    1. The quality of his washes is superb. He applied the same painstaking exactitude that he displays in his architectural drawing to his portraits. The fantasy buildings is breathtakingly bizarre. The link in Gallica has over 1500 images. I find the work incredibly fascinating and really strange. Something you would think I would be imperious to by now. Glad you enjoyed Miss Heart.

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  2. I love the architectural drawings. Especially the temple of the sun, are you surprised? But really what a vision of over the top building. The rest of the pieces range from the sublime to the ridiculous (and I mean that in the best possible way) … the open mouthed wide eyed stares, for example. I think I will enjoy perusing the collection. A great introduction, Monsieur Gateau.

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    1. Yes over the top it certainly is. Neoclassicism with lashings of rococo and flights of wild fantasy. The dairy in the shape of a bull is just out there. Apparently the bizarre portraits belong to a genre fashionable at the time grimaces which was a reaction against the idealized portraits of the ancien regime, but I am not really familiar with any other examples. I hope you enjoy and my pleasure!

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      1. The dairy, also a little winking irony I think. And likely unbuildable … at that scale anyway. I will have a look at the rest of the art. Perhaps you should do a follow up post?

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      2. Most of the buildings would be unbuildable as they would collapse under the weight of their embellishments, the proportions do not reflect the accepted view of the neoclassicists and as to their expense…there is enough material for a follow up.

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      3. Yes astronomical. I was just thinking how a modern architect might be able to swing it by using modern lightweight materials. It wouldn’t have the same impact I’m sure but wouldn’t it be something?

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      4. No I meant one drawing/painting depicting a city with the three styles of building all in one. For an artist it would be an enjoyable and challenging undertaking

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  3. Very interesting post! I’ve never heard of Lequeu before. That nun, I think I like her the most he he. I instantly thought of Diderot’s novel “The Nun”, I read that years and years ago when I was thirteen but it left quite an impression on me. And by the way, I love Joy Division too 🙂

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