June 20, 2005


Jean-Jacques Lequeu’s name has come to be linked with those of Étienne-Louis Boullée and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, at least since the publication of Emil Kaufmann’s 1933 book Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier. The three were all architectural visionaries, who sketched fanciful and often extravagantly unconstructable buildings, and all were active at the advent of the French revolution. Unlike his two contemporaries, however, Lequeu (1757-1825) never belonged to the architectural establishment. He worked as a draughtsman at Rouen, and later, from 1779, in Paris, variously at the Cadastre (Land Registry), the Ecole Polytechnique, and the Interior Ministry.

'Elevation géométrale du temple de la Terre,' drawing by J-J Lequeu from his manuscript 'Architecure Civile,' 1794.


'Appartement du rez-de-chaussée...' drawing by J-J Lequeu from his manuscript 'Architecure Civile,' between 1777-1814.

During these years he laboured on two substantial and elaborate treatises in manuscript: Architecture Civile and Nouvelle Méthode Appliquée aux Principes Élémentaires du Dessin: ‘New Method Applied to the Elementary Principles of Drawing.’ These, along with other sketches and documents were donated anonymously to the Bibliothèque Royale (now Nationale) in July 1825, a few months after their author’s death. This entire collection has been scanned & is available for on-line perusal at the Gallica website, from where I have lifted the present images.

'Elévation principale du monument...' drawing by J-J Lequeu  about 1793/94.


'Le vieux château en maçonnerie à la mer,' drawing by J-J Lequeu, from his collection 'Architecture Civile,' between 1777-1814.

While some of Lequeu’s sketches resemble designs of Boullée’s, (as in the first of the images above, for example) it seems plausible that Lequeu envied and resented the older architect’s prestige. According to Kaufmann, between two leaves in Lequeu’s Architecture Civile, there was found an inflammatory pamphlet, dating from the revolution’s second year, which declaimed: ‘You Artists who demand Justice, Awake! A clique has been formed in the Jury of the Arts set up by the National Convention […] A kind of architectural lunatic, the seventy-year-old Boullée is at the centre of it and has arranged everything to his advantage […] and keep an eye on that humbug Ledoux and the smug charlatan Le Roy.’

'Géométral d'un aqueduc...' drawing by J-J Lequeu, from his manuscript 'Architecture Civile,' between 1777-1814.


'L'île d'amour et repos de pêche en largeur,' drawing by J-J Lequeu, from his manuscript 'Architecture Civile,' between 1777-1814.

Lequeu had tried submitting his work for exhibition in the Salons, but was consistently rejected. He later tried to sell his work by post, by way of advertisements in Paris journals, but these efforts too, it seems, were largely unsuccessful. He retired in 1815, whereupon he apparently placed an advertisement which included (in English) the following: ‘I shall now fly the company of men from whom he has received nothing but injustice and ingratitude: I shall go, and I defy the others.’ Other writings of his also hint at a querulous, prickly temperament in their author.

'Temple de verdure de Cérès situé au milieu de la plaine campagne,' drawing by J-J Lequeu, from his manuscript 'Architecture Civile, between 1777-1814.


'Tombeau d'Isocrates orateur athenien,' drawing by J-J Lequeu, 1789.

Besides his architectural œuvre, Lequeu also produced a number of striking ‘physiognomical’ studies, such as those below, and numerous pornographic Figures Lascives: examples here. He admitted that he had been reprimanded for drawing such figures while at work… Sexual preoccupations often crop up, more-or-less hidden, in his architectural drawings too. Perhaps most unexpected of all, though, are the peculiar self-portraits that Lequeu made of himself as a woman…

'Le borgne grimacier,' drawing by J-J Lequeu, from between 1777-1824.


'Le grand baailleur [sic],' drawing by J-J Lequeu, from between 1777-1824.

There is a monograph about Lequeu, subtitled an Architectural Enigma, by one Philippe Duboy, which has the virtue of presenting hundreds of the images from the Lequeu collection (albeit all but a few of them in black & white). Alas, I wouldn’t recommend this volume, as, while Duboy does not omit to present what little is known about Lequeu’s life, he does this confusingly, and uses his discussion of Lequeu’s work as a pretext for a tiresome & pretentious farrago about Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Roussel & Le Corbusier, among others.

'Jean Jacque Le Queu, J.ur, architecte,' drawing by J-J Lequeu, 1792.

The images above are all details, click on them to see them somewhat enlarged, and in full.

Posted by misteraitch at June 20, 2005 02:25 PM

wow. gorgeous. those first few images seem almost too beautiful to be functional architectural drawings... they also have a decidedly modern feeling don't they. (tiepolo was painting at this time i believe - what a contrast) love them.

i recognize that scowling / one eye open portrait. can't for the life of me remember from where or why... anyhow, thanks mr.h

Posted by: jmorrison on June 21, 2005 02:43 PM

I would love to take this book off of your hands! You seem to have an amazing collection of books. I kind of stumbled across your site, but I am going to use it to search out a bunch of other interesting topics.

Posted by: Emily on July 2, 2007 06:20 PM
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