A tapestry Jørn Utzon requested from Swiss-French architect and urbanist Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, to hang in the Sydney Opera House will finally ‘come home’ this year – 57 years after its commissioning.
Acquired at an auction in Copenhagen on June 9 for more than $400,000 by the Opera House, Le Corbusier’s Les Dés Sont Jetés (‘The Dice Are Cast’) is a 6.5sqm wool tapestry that was commissioned just a year after the announcement of Utzon’s winning Opera House entry, while he was simultaneously working on the structural design and interior detail. The younger architect had written to Le Corbusier in October 1958 asking if he would contribute to the iconic Sydney project in the form of “decoration, carpets and paintings”, enclosing drawings of his winning design.
The pair had met in Paris to discuss the proposal in 1959, and a year later, the tapestry was delivered to Utzon. However, with Le Corbusier’s death in 1965 and Utzon’s departure from the Opera House project in 1966 due to economic problems, the artwork never made it into the building. Instead, Utzon hung it in his home in Hellebæk, writing to Le Corbusier with his wife, Lis, to express their gratitude:
“For quite some time we have intended to write to you again in order to tell you how extremely happy we are for your wonderful tapestry. It is a daily source of delight and beauty not only for ourselves and our children but for all our friends and guests, too. It has endowed our home with a beauty so exquisite that I am at a loss for the proper words to describe our feelings about it.”
Les Dés Sont Jetés incorporates various visual references that Jørn Utzon provided to Le Corbusier. As Professor Antony Moulis of the University of Queensland has noted: “The graphical sign positioned in the bottom right of the tapestry – white lines on a black ground appearing to represent a crying face and, simultaneously, the letter ‘P’ – appears to be produced by tracing over the competition issue site plan of Bennelong Point,” while “the graphic outline forming the centre of the ‘P’ is in fact an outline of the distinctive plan footprint of the tram depot previously housed on Bennelong Point”.
“Jørn Utzon’s Le Corbusier tapestry represents a meeting of two of the great design minds of the 20th century,” says Sydney Opera House CEO, Louise Herron AM.
“It will be a source of daily inspiration for us all, as it was for the Utzons. We are profoundly grateful to the passionate philanthropists who have enabled this very special acquisition for the Australian public, led by Peter Weiss AO and including former SOH chairman Joseph Skrzynski AO, who re-engaged Jørn Utzon during his tenure. The tapestry will be on public display for everyone to enjoy, reminding us of our roots as we embark on a decade of renewal.”
^Utzon with the Le Corbusier tapestry in 1960
The work’s acquisition coincides with a major exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of Le Corbusier’s death at France’s Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Utzon family has expressed their happiness that Jørn’s vision has finally been realised. From Denmark, Jan Utzon said:
“On behalf of the family, I couldn’t be more delighted that the tapestry is finally coming ‘home’ to the Sydney Opera House, in keeping with our father’s original intention. My father greatly admired Le Corbusier and they engaged and collaborated deeply. Le Corbusier incorporated the city and architectural details of the planned Opera House into his composition. It belongs in Sydney, and we’re thrilled at that this legacy will live on in the Opera House.”
The tapestry is expected to hang in the main box office foyer of the Opera House.