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Hervé (Lucien) photographs of architecture and artworks by Le Corbusier
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  • Biographical / Historical
  • Arrangement
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Preferred Citation
  • Related Materials
  • Scope and Contents
  • Processing Information
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Digitized Material

  • Contributing Institution: Special Collections
    Title: Lucien Hervé photographs of architecture and artworks by Le Corbusier
    Creator: Hervé, Lucien
    Creator: Le Corbusier, 1887-1965
    Identifier/Call Number: 2002.R.41
    Physical Description: 12.6 Linear Feet (42 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1949-1965
    Abstract: The collection contains over 18,000 photographic negatives, 1,700 color slides, and 1,200 transparencies taken by Lucien Hervé, Le Corbusier's official photographer. Organized by project, this photographic material includes both Hervé's original negatives and copys negatives from the work of other photographers who have documented Le Corbusier's architectural projects. Subjects include Le Corbusier's executed buildings, unrealized architectural designs, and non-architectural works, such as paintings, tapestries, and sculptures. The collection also contains hundreds of portraits of Le Corbusier, both formal and informal.
    Physical Location: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language of Material: Collection material is in English, with some French.

    Biographical / Historical

    One of the most prominent architectural photographers of the twentieth century, Lucien Hervé created a body of work, inspired by a Modernist philosophy, that remains uniquely identifiable. His tightly cropped images, in high contrast, offering oblique views, and often favoring the shadows cast by a form over an investigation of the form itself place an emphasis on mood, and on providing the viewer access to the transcendental nature of structure. Although Hervé worked with many of the influential architects of the twentieth century, his fifteen-year collaboration with architect Le Corbusier defines his career. Hervé served as Le Corbusier's official photographer from 1949 until the architect's death in 1965.
    Lucien Hervé was born László Elkán on August 7, 1910, in Hódmezovásárhely, a city in south-east Hungary. The son of middle-class parents, Elkán showed artistic inclinations as a child, first through seriously dedicating himself to the piano, and later bydemonstrating an interest in drawing. At the age of eighteen he left home for Vienna, Austria, enrolling in university to study economics, an endeavor that was soon abandoned in favor of drawing courses at Vienna's Akademie der bildenden Künste. A year later he went to Paris, taking a job as a bank clerk, while spending his free time exploring the city's museums. By the early 1930s he had become involved in fashion, and worked as a designer for many notable houses, including Patou, Chanel, Rochas, and Schiaparelli.
    The worldwide Great Depression had a crushing impact on the economy and social stability of Paris in the 1930s. Lingering post-war debt and vast unemployment led to the legal implementation of shortened work-hours, which sparked labor disputes, worker strikes, and violent confrontations. This unstable climate inspired Elkán to join the French Communist Party in 1934. He was instrumental in the organization of the 1935 Paris labor strikes and became the secretary-general of the Central Labor Organization, a labor union affiliated with the Communist Party. Elkán was expelled from the Communist Party in 1938, after which he began working with fellow Hungarian Nicolás Müller, the cousin of a close friend. The pair produced several articles for the publication Marianne, a weekly Paris news magazine. Müller spoke very little French, so Elkán produced the text, while Müller supplied the photographs, and the resulting essays were credited to Müller. Müller left France for Spain in September 1938, and Elkán continued producing photographs for the magazine using Müller's byline.
    By 1939 Elkán had become a naturalized citizen of France and was drafted into the French army. He continued to take photographs during his service, producing photo essays that were published in Vu. Captured by German forces during the Battle of Dunkirk in June 1940, he was held captive as a prisoner of war in East Prussia, and later formally arrested for his involvement in resistance activities within the prison camp. In September 1941 he escaped and traveled to Vichy, France, where he resumed his work with the French Resistance. By 1943 he had rejoined the Communist Party, and this time he did so under a new name - Lucien Hervé.
    Hervé spent the following years actively involved in the Mouvement National des Prisonniers de Guerre et Déportés, until his second expulsion from the Communist Party in June 1947. At this time he took pictures for a variety of magazines, including France Illustration, Points de vue, Regards, and Lilliput. He also notably returned to an architectural subject he had first explored ten years earlier, the Eiffel Tower. Hervé took hundreds of photographs of the cultural icon, even reviewing its architectural plans, a tactic he would later employ in his consideration of Le Corbusier's work.
    A desire to meet and photograph Henri Matisse led Hervé to connect with Father Marie-Alain Couturier, a Dominican priest who had befriended Matisse during the construction of the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence on the French Riviera. Father Couturier, the publisher of the French journal L'art sacré, has been credited with bringing a modern perspective to religious art. In 1949 Father Couturier was in Marseille, and happened to walk by the construction site of Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation; he contacted Hervé suggesting the housing project would make a suitable subject for Hervé's lens. Hervé approached the publication France Illustration seeking a commission, but the idea was not well received. Fortunately Plaisir de France felt differently, and Hervé departed for Marseille on assignment in early December 1949. Due to limited funds, Hervé gave himself one day to photograph the housing block with his Rolleiflex 6x6, famously shooting six hundred and fifty negatives over the course of a bright and sunny day.
    In accordance with a notice posted at the building site's entrance instructing that copies of all photographs taken of the building be sent directly to Le Corbusier, Hervé promptly sent the architect contact prints of his negatives. On December 15, 1949, Hervé received a letter of praise from Le Corbusier - a now well-documented letter that marked a new beginning in Hervé's career, as well as the beginning of an enduring relationship though which, in a sentiment expressed so well by Marco Iuliano, a "new, more humane idea of Modernity was formed and broadcast around the world (Iuliano, 2016, 1100)." From that point onward, Lucien Hervé served as Le Corbusier's official photographer. Hervé photographed Le Corbusier's current architectural projects, and was also commissioned by the architect to document earlier projects. Le Corbusier wanted to see all of his architecture through Hervé's lens, so as to create a stylistic harmony in the documentation of his ideas. The two men worked closely to create a visual archive of Le Corbusier's architecture and artwork, producing a multitude of highly-edited sets of negatives and contact prints that function as the official record of Le Corbusier's legacy.
    Le Corbusier experienced heart-failure while swimming at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in August, 1965. The collaboration that had defined Hervé's career had ended, but he would continue to be recruited by many renowned architects, all eager to see their work translated through this photographer with the so-called "soul of an architect" (Le Corbusier to Lucien Hervé, December, 1949.) He photographed the work of Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, Paolo Nervi, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Oscar Niemeyer, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Hervé was also generous with his time, and frequently engaged with young architectural students who came to him seeking advice.
    Hervé died on the 26th of June, 2007, in Paris, France, at the age of 96.
    Beer, Olivier. Lucien Hervé: Building Images. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2004.
    Iuliano, Marco. "Lucien Hervé and Le Corbusier: Pair or Peers?" The Journal of Architecture 21:7(2016): 1100-1126.
    Sbriglio, Jacques. Le Corbusier & Lucien Hervé: A Dialogue Between Architect and Photographer. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2011.


    This collection is arranged in two series: Series I. Architectural projects (1905-1968), 1949-1965; Series II. Artwork, portraits, and notebooks (1907-circa 1960), 1949-1965, undated.

    Conditions Governing Access

    This collection is open for use by qualified researchers.

    Preferred Citation

    Lucien Hervé photographs of architecture and artworks by Le Corbusier, 1949-1965, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2002.R.41.

    Related Materials

    Le Corbusier manuscripts, sketches, correspondence, and photographs, 1911-1970 (bulk 1920-1955), Getty Research Institute, accession no. 920083. Persistent Link: http://primo.getty.edu/GRI:GETTY_ALMA21137782530001551
    Collection contains manuscripts for lectures (including radio talks), published and unpublished writings that include a film project, sketches related to writings on modern architecture, urbanism, and correspondence.
    "Le Corbusier, 1954." Alexander Liberman photography archive, ca. 1925-ca. 1998. Getty Research Institute, accession no. 2000.R.19. Persistent Link: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2000r19_107
    Portraits of Le Corbusier in his Paris studio taken by Alexander Liberman. Consists of six black-and-white photographs.
    "Job 3624: Le Corbusier, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1963." Julius Shulman photography archive, 1936-1997. Getty Research Institute, accession no. 2004.R.10. Persistent Link: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2004r10/job3624
    Exterior views of Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, taken by photographer Julius Shulman. Consists of five black-and-white photographs.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection presents the work of Le Corbusier, the influential artist, thinker, and pioneering Modernist architect, as seen through the lens of photographer Lucien Hervé. Hervé was chosen by Le Corbusier to be his official photographer in 1949, a role Hervé maintained until the architect's death in 1965. Le Corbusier felt that there was no photographer who better understood his architecture than Hervé, and therefore commissioned him to document both the new buildings he designed and built in the 1950s and 1960s, and older ones completed before World War II. The collection includes images of executed buildings, unrealized architectural designs, portraits, and Le Corbusier's non-architectural works, including his sketches, notes, paintings, and sculptures.
    Series I contains photographic negatives, transparencies, and slides documenting 119 of Le Corbusier's architectural projects. It includes the 650 negatives of L'Unité d'habitation à Marseille shot by Hervé in December 1949; his striking images of the Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut de Ronchamp; and his extensive documentation of Le Corbusier's multiple structures in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad, India. This matieral not only serves as a record of Hervé's photographic practice, but also inherently demonstrates the role Hervé played in Le Corbusier's attempt to document his own legacy. Some of the negatives in this series are copy negatives (predominantly glass plates) produced in the 1920s and 1930s by the various photographers previously employed by Le Corbusier. Hervé's work copying these images, labeling them and compiling them chronologically by project, shows us the level at which he and the architect were mutually committed to creating a comprehensive visual archive.
    Le Corbusier sought the services of many photographers throughout his career. The following is a list of those known to have documented his work, followed by the dates they are known to have produced images for Le Corbusier. This series contains Hervé's copies of original negatives by some or all of the following photographers:
    Frédéric Boissonnas (1924-1928); Charles Gérard (1924-1928); Thiriet (1928-1930); Marius Gravot (1930-1933); René Lévy (1934); Albin Salaun (1934 to late 1940s); Jacques Thalmann; the brothers Chevojon; Marius Car; Louis Sciarli; Vittorio Mazzucconi; Brassaï; Robert Doisneau; René Burri; Sigfried Giedion; Frank-Henri Jullien; and René Maestri.
    Series II contains Hervé's images of Le Corbusier's life and work, extending beyond the scope of his architectural practice. It documents Le Corbusier's artwork, often depicting his sketches and paintings shot individually in the studio at 24 rue Nungesser-et-Coli, Paris; "on site" elements of architectural projects such as Le Modulor imprinted in concrete at L'Unité d'habitation à Nantes-Rezé and the tapestries and murals of Chandigarh, and artwork shot on site at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Both Le Corbusier's cabanon and E-1027, and the art they contained, are well documented. It includes Hervé's portraits of Le Corbusier, from fleeting moments captured during site visits, to formal portrait sessions, to intimate images of Le Corbusier, his wife Yvonne, and friends vacationing by the sea at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. This series also includes images taken from Le Corbusier's notebooks (including those created during his travels through Europe in the early 1900s); documentation of exhibitions of Le Corbusier's work; and a small number of miscellaneous images and reference materials labeled "collections d'objets trouvés."
    Similar to Series I, some of the negatives in Series II were not produced by Hervé. It contains original, pre-World War II negatives (photographers unknown), that are believed to have been acquired by Hervé through Le Corbusier, probably intentionally in order to have them added to Le Corbusier's overall "archive."
    The black-and-white negatives in this collection were those used to produce the much-publicized contact sheets Hervé and Le Corbusier created as a visual archive of Le Corbusier's work. The Getty Research Institute maintains digital reproductions of these contact prints that are available online for consultation; the original contact sheets are held in the Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris, France. See Photographic reproductions of Lucien Hervé contact sheets [Photographed ca. 1950- ca. 1965; digitized 2009].
    All dates enclosed in parentheses represent project dates, or the dates of the original material in the case of artworks and notebooks, and do not reflect specific dates of exposure or printing for this photographic material, as these dates remain undetermined.

    Processing Information

    In the fall of 2006 Alan Tomlinson rehoused this collection in archival binders and conducted a detailed inventory of its scope and contents, with the exception of five boxes of negatives which remained unprocessed.
    In the fall of 2016, Talia Olshefsky completed the processing of the remaining five boxes (Boxes 39-42) by rehousing them and cataloging their contents. Olshefsky created this finding aid based on Tomlinson's original inventory and documentation, under the supervision of Ann Harrison.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Acquired in 2002.

    Digitized Material

    Selected materials from Series I. were digitized by the repository in 2009 and are available online:

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Architects -- France
    Architecture, Modern -- 20th century
    Architectural photography -- 20th century