Mascarons & Jean-Jacques Lequeu

He is Free — Jean-Jacques Lequeu

Friday, February 07, 2020

My two years as a conscript in the Argentine Navy (1965/66) enabled me to postpone that terrible decision which was how I was going to spend the rest of my life and what I was going to do. Until then in that past century boys or near men would say they wanted to be doctors, lawyers, engineers or architects. My choice was to be an architect. In the early 60 I failed electricity in Mexico City College. I confused resistance with capacitance. That pretty well sealed my fate in my quest to be an architect or an engineer even though my math was near stellar.

In 1967, with shoulder length hair and dubbing myself a hippie I went to San Francisco. On a cable car ride to the wharf I noticed many young people get off a stop called Chestnut Street. I asked. I was told that this was the San Francisco Art Institute. A few told me they were studying photography.

This came as a surprise as I never thought that photography could be a profession.

Perhaps by the time my Rosemary, two daughters and I moved to Vancouver from Mexico City the idea of becoming a photographer finally became more than a dream.

But architecture and architects have been an important interest always. In Vancouver I photographed most of the best architects. I found them to be renaissance men (never did meet a woman architect) with whom I could converse about anything.

For quite a few years I denigrated local architecture and called Vancouver a beautiful place in spite of its architecture. It was having barbecue on Salt Spring many years ago with Jack Webster when I noticed he started the fire with cedar shingles. I have never been able to adapt to the idea that many homes in our city are made of wood and virtual cardboard.

In this last Friday’s NY Times that I thoroughly enjoyed this article written by Jason Farago about French architect Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757–1856) who because of the French Revolution had most of his building projects disappear. He resorted (nicely) into beautiful draftsmanship that is art. One of the illustrations immediately caught my eye. The citation of “ He is Free”- 1798–99 reads:

The Morgan’s show, sadly [!!], has only a little X-rated Lecqueu, but it’s not entirely prudish; you’ll find one exacting study of a woman’s rear end, her thighs and buttocks helpfully labeled. And there are strange, wonderful architectural drawings, like this one of a semicircular niche from which a nude woman leans out to free a songbird. (The drawing’s title appears as a fake ancient inscription: It’s French, but written with Greek letters.) From one perspective she may just be a classicized pinup model, but consider also the four mascarons at bottom that frame the tumbling nude. This is an architecture in which flesh and marble get confused for each other, and bodies become enwrapped in the built environment.

One of my proudest possesions is a framed sketch by Vancouver architect Ned Pratt who especially did it for me on my request. See it here.

The idea that a woman can also be architecture is not lost by Argentines. When we see such an apparition we call her “un monumento”.

Originally published at

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: