Petit Palais has accustomed us to big surprises but this new show of drawings by Jean-Jacques Lequeu is so astonishing that it almost eclipses the main show of Khnopff on the first floor. 150 drawings chosen among the 800 that he bequeathed to the Bibliothèque Royale just before his death in 1826, are exhibited here with a variety of themes. Somptuous architecture, imaginary landscapes, troubling self portraits and erotic scenes. All the fantasies of a failed architect who became a drawer for the French administration during the Revolution.
Born in Rouen in a carpenter’s family, Lequeu becomes a technical drawer and works with Jacques-Germain Soufflot in 1779 when he is designing the Panthéon. After his master’s death, he spends his life trying to compete for architectural projects and never once wins. He takes us on imaginary travels though invented landscapes. Very typical of the period, the turn of the 18th/19 th century, he creates grottos and temples, national monuments and very crude erotic drawings with precise descriptions of the woman’s body. A very good theme for psychoanalyst’s studies, his work had never been shown before.
Was he an extravagant mind, a sick neuropath, a frustrated civil servant or a pervert? One thing is certain he was a brilliant drawer and his technique of lavis is impeccable. While working for the cadastre and for Ecole Polytechnique he draws maps and mechanisms. He invents follies and finds his inspiration in antiquity and in China. His imagination is as boundless as his obsessiveness since his projects never get built.
The last room of the show is devoted to very precise drawings of women’s anatomy and erotic works. They were kept in the part of Bibliothèque Nationale de France called “l’Enfer”. They give a strength of madness to the work body of this extravagant and obscure artist who is just being rediscovered after two centuries.
Thanks to the Richelieu library being closed for renovations, Corinne Le Bitouzé, curator of prints and photographs at BNF has suggested this collection to Christohphe Leribault. Not to be missed.
And the show will go on to the Morgan Library in New York and to the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston. Petit Palais until March 31. and a very pretty catalog published by Editions Norma and BNF (39€)
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