Letters published in a 2008 biography of the seminal 20th century modern master, Architect and Painter suggest that the radical urban planner was a Nazi sympathizer whose Fascist thinking went above and beyond previously documented perceptions. In one letter written shortly after Hitler conquered France and much of Western Europe, the Swiss-born architect expresses clear enthusiasm for his intervention. In a letter written to his Mother Corbusier wrote, “If he is serious in his declarations, Hitler can crown his life with a magnificent work: the remaking of Europe.” This is not entirely surprising in light that Le Corbusier aligned himself with the French far-right in the 1930s and accepted a post as a city planner for the Vichy regime that ruled France and collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.
Born Charles Edouard Jeanneret in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Corbusier thought of himself as a visionary who could reshape mankind by creating a new form of city. Many other respected French Artists including, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Kees van Dongen flirted with Fascism before and during the war. It doesn’t make them better or poorer at their craft, but in our present society it casts a shadow over their accomplishments as Artists. Separating Art and politics is a difficult concept. Perhaps we should just accept and honour Artists for their artistic merits, disregarding personal beliefs and actions during times of sweeping political change. Picasso was a committed communist and reflecting on the murderous trail of Josef Stalin’s rein of terror in Europe, his work has never been scrutinized in the same light as Derain, Vlaminck and VanDongen. Picasso was also part of the resistance to the Vichy Government bravely refusing to leave his studio in Paris for the duration of the war. In many ways he is regarded as a National Hero for his commitment to a free France. This latest bash at Le Corbusier is proof that, ‘the wrong politics’ can be detrimental to an Artist’s legacy. Corbusier’s face adorns the 10 Franc Swiss note and several Swiss cities have honoured him by naming streets and squares after the master. However, in light of these latest revelations, Zurich authorities decided not to name a square next to the central train station after the Architect. The authorities believe that this was a reasonable response to a delicate subject. The debate continues.