Le Corbusier visited Brazil twice before the Second World War, visits that were of signal importance in the architect’s own career, but also of importance more widely in advancing an erotic conception of modern architecture. Kenneth Frampton wrote of the first visit (1929, organized through contacts of the French poet Blaise Cendrars) in particular as a ‘personal epiphany’ for the architect, and (later) probably the happiest time of his life. It also seems to have been an erotic epiphany, since Le Corbusier seems to have enjoyed a ‘close relationship’ (as Frampton coyly puts it) with the African-American jazz singer Josephine Baker, whom he met en voyage to Rio, and who is the subject of a number of drawings. 

The architect sketched incessantly during both these early visits. Architecture in fact makes up only a small fraction of his output, which mostly concerns the natural landscape of Rio and its pneumatic female inhabitants. There are numerous letters and other bits of correspondence, and other, longer accounts of the city and its life that made their way into the public speeches he gave at the time. It is in sum a major body of work.

The impressions gathered in the visit of 1929 inform the major imaginative work of the period, the re-planning of Rio as a sinuous megastructure, curving its way between mountain and sea. But this plan exists in only the sketchiest of forms, and Le Corbusier’s imaginative investment in recording the erotics of the beach as it already exists is, in some ways, greater. The small sketch illustrated here is a piece of ephemera, but seen through an erotic lens, a highly significant image. It was executed in coloured crayon on a card from the steamer Lutetia, on board which Le Corbusier sailed with Josephine Baker from Buenos Aires northwards to Brazil. The text on the card (in French) concerns the formation of a club on board to organize games and other entertainments. Le Corbusier inverts the card so the text reads upside down, and draws himself and Baker on, or close to, the beach at Flamengo, a well-to-do southern suburb of Rio, located between the commercial centre of the city and Copacabana – the architect stayed at the recently built Hotel Gloria, and, it is recorded, swam at least once off the beach outside the hotel (a photograph exists of him standing by the sea wall overlooking the beach, dressed in one of the hotel’s dressing gowns). His drawing places him and Baker on the right-hand side of the image. Dressed in a white suit he stands close behind her. She wears a sleeveless green dress; her chin lifted slightly, her eyes apparently closed as if in ecstasy at the beauty of the situation. In the background the great priapic form of the Sugar Loaf rises, an indicator, perhaps, of the architect’s state of mind.
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