Etienne Louis Boullée

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Etienne Louis Boullée
(1728–1799)

Interior of a Library

Pen and black and some brown ink, gray wash, over faint traces of black chalk; compass point at center; ruled borders in pen and black ink at outer margin and framing design area
15 7/8 x 25 5/8 inches (420 x 653 mm)

Thaw Collection

Item description: 

Since most of his commissioned architectural works are no longer extant, Boullée is best known for a group of a hundred imaginative and rather grandiose designs that he left to the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris. Although he was commissioned to expand the royal library in 1780, his designs were never realized. In his treatise, Boullée explained that he was transforming "a . . . courtyard . . . into an immense [amphitheater-like] basilica lighted from above . . . [with] attendants spread about so that they could pass the books" from tier to tier. In brilliant, large-scale designs, such as the present example, he went beyond Neoclassicism to the visionary—even futuristic—clarity for which his work is now so admired.