La branche sur fond noir, 1948 dated and signed '48 / F. LEGER' (lower right) and further titled, signed and dated (on the reverse) oil on canvas 36 1/4 x 28 3/4in (92 x 73cm)
PROVENANCE: Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, France R. S. Johnson Fine Art, Chicago, Illinois Estate of Howard C. Warren, Chicago, Illinois
EXHIBITED: Marseille, France, Galerie Garibaldi, Fernand Léger, huiles, qouaches, dessins, 1950, no. 19 New York, New York, Buchholz Gallery, Léger, Recent paintings & le Cirque, 1950, no. 14 Hobart, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, Australia French Painting to Day, 1953, no. 61 London, England, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd, Fernand Léger, paintings, drawings, lithographs, ceramics, December 1954 - January 1955, no. 30 Paris, France, Palais du Louvre, Fernand Léger, 1881-1955, June-October 1956, no. 126, illus. p. 323 Amsterdam and Eindhoven, the Netherlands, Stedelijk Museum and the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Léger Wegbereider, 1956-57, no. 65 Munich, Germany, Haus der Kunst, Fernand Léger 1881-1955, 1957, no. 110 Basel, Switzerland, Kunsthalle, Fernand Léger, 1957, no. 89 Zurich, Switzerland, Kunsthaus, Fernand Léger, July 6-August 17, 1957, no. 119 Dortmund, Germany, Museum am Ostwald, Fernand Léger 1881-1995, 1957, no. 37 Kaiserslautern, Germany, Pfalzgalerie, 1970 Mont-de-Marsan, France, Musée Despiau-Wlérick, Fernand Léger, 1974, no. 8 Colmar, France, Musée d'Unterlinden, Unterlinden 1: Picasso, Léger, Braque, Juan Gris, Laurens, 1975, no. 31 Malines, Belgium, Stad Mechelen, Cultureel Centrum, Burgemeester A. Spinoy, Fernand Léger, 1979, no. 8 Berlin, Germany, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Fernand Léger 1881-1955, 1980-81, no. 114, illus. p. 453 Ivry-sur Seine, France, Hôtel de Ville, Fernand Léger, oeuvres 1930-1955 1983, illus. p. 29
LITERATURE: W. Schmalenbach, Fernand Léger, New York, 1976, pl. 41 p. 152 color illus. p. 153 G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger: catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 1990, no. 1304, illus. p. 225
Following the devastation of the Second World War and his exile in the United States, Fernand Léger brought a new spirit to his work. These ideas reflected his belief that art could provide a peaceful "sanctuary" to the masses as well as his jouissance at being back in his beloved France. He said at the time:
It is inexcusable that after five years of war, the hardest war of all, men who have been heroic actors in this sad epic should not have their rightful turn in the sanctuaries. The coming peace must open wide for them the doors that have remained closed until now. The ascent of the masses to beautiful works of art, to Beauty, will be the sign of a new time.
This work represents Léger's post-war effort at providing solace through beauty. The painting's balance of complimentary colors is harmonized by its soft cubist composition. Nodding to Arcadia, it is a paean to peace. He fuses his lifelong interest in mechanical and urban forms with more idyllic and pastoral ones.
Like an olive branch emerging from the darkness, "La branche" at the center of the work is set on a black patch of paint, which in turn floats above a field of classic Léger imagery: colored bars like ribbons, architectural fragments, a country fence, plinths, and organic forms.
Commenting on his choice of subject matter, Léger once said:
Everything is equally interesting, ... the human face or the human body is no more important in purely plastic terms than a tree, a plant, a bit of rock or a rope. The aim is to compose a picture with these objects by carefully choosing those that will make up a composition.
During this time in the last decade of his life, Léger was also considering his place in art history and trying to place himself in the long line of great French painters. As in another painting from the same period, the famous Homage to Jacques-Louis David, 1948-1949, where Léger was looking back at the neo-classical master, in La branche sur fond noir he is looking simultaneously at the genres of still life and, perhaps more significantly, the French pastoral.
This painting is an homage to his homeland, as well as a peace offering for the men and women returning from war and exile.