Le Corbusier painting in the nude at Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027

Plus, the story behind
his nasty leg scar

Image: Le Corbusier painting a fresco in the nude
at Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027 (Summer 1939)


Shirtless Corbu relaxing at Villa E-1027

Shirtless Corbu relaxing at Villa E-1027

I didn’t know about this until just now.Le Corbusier apparently got the scar while swimming in Saint-Tropez bay in 1938. He’d been staying at the architect Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027. He got trapped under a yacht’s propeller-blades as it passed over him. As he lated recounted the incident in a letter to his mother, in his characteristically clinical tone:

The motor going at 200 horsepower — a good clip.

Le Corbusier in Saint-Tropez bay (1938)

Le Corbusier in Saint-Tropez bay (1938)

Needless to say, his right leg got terribly mangled. Apparently he remained remarkably calm, however, even while losing a ton of blood. From that same letter:

After the first turn of the blades, I was thrown out of the circuit and seemed not to have been hurt. I reached the surface, and breathed air. I hadn’t swallowed a drop of water. I saw the boat gliding slowly away. I shouted: “Hey, wait a second, you went right over me, there may be some damage!” Quite automatically my hand went to my right thigh, my arm fitting nicely inside. I looked down: a big area of blood-red water, and half my thigh floating like a ray (the fish!), attached by a narrow strip of flesh: “Throw me a buoy, I’m badly hurt.”

The yacht headed toward me, throwing me a sort of rope knot too big to be held in one hand. The side of the yacht was too high for anyone to help me. “Throw a lifesaver.” It comes, and I sit inside it. And here are some fishermen coming into port; their boat is low, they hold out their hands, and I give them my left hand, because I’m holding my thigh together with my right; we reach the place I started from, on the breakwater; I get up on the jetty; a kind driver appears out of nowhere and helps me sit down beside him. The fisherman gets in the backseat. Hospital. They put me on the table and begin sewing me together. This lasts from six to midnight, in two sessions.

Le Corbusier and his wife along with Romanian architectural critic Jean Badovici at Villa E-1027, photographed by the Irish modernist Eileen Gray

Le Corbusier & wife w/ Romanian architecture critic Jean Badovici at Villa E-1027, photographed by Irish modernist Eileen Gray

After recovering, Le Corbusier set about making some “alterations” to Gray’s design at Villa E-1027. Gray was none too happy about the liberties he took with her visual and conceptual schematization of the villa. You can read more about it here.

18 thoughts on “Le Corbusier painting in the nude at Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027

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  2. The relationship between Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier and the defamation of her masterpiece E1027 with his murals has been exhaustively covered by Beatriz Colomina in several essays.
    One is printed in this book:
    “Architecturally Speaking: Practices of Art, Architecture and the Everyday”, The essay is called “Battle Lines”, Chapter 9.
    It was published earlier in “The Critical Landscape”, 010 Publishers, 1996. I don’t know if the two articles differ, but it makes for some good and unsavory reading, especially on the part of the vengeful Corb.
    The nude picture is apparently the only nude picture ever taken of Corb, Colomina explains this in psychological (Freudian?) terms.

  3. Architecture needs a couple of centuries is order to create the next brand new Le Courbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Ll. Wright, and Walter Gropius, because of the “environtment”. First would have to come the next Leonardo, and then, maybe my heroes. History repeats itself, huh: it’s what History makes the best.

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