Fernand Léger (1881-1955) Composition
Lot 56*AR
Fernand Léger (1881-1955) Composition
Sold for £56,450 (US$ 94,784) inc. premium
Lot Details
Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
signed with artist's initials and dated 'F.L.36' (lower right)
pencil and gouache on paper
59.3 x 39cm (23 3/8 x 15 3/8in).
Executed in 1936


    Galerie Blanche, Stockholm.
    Anon. sale, Christie's, London, 30 March 1982, lot 358.
    Purchased from the above by the present owner.

    Humlebaek, Denmark, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Fremmed kunst i dansk eje, 29 February-12 April 1964, no.184.

    Painted in 1936, the present work is an example of Léger's developing style after his 'mechanical period' of around 1918 to 1923. Having fought in the First World War, Fernand Léger's paintings had subsequently focussed on the machine and modern technology, formed of core geometric elements and rendered in a precise, impersonal style.

    From around 1927 however, his hitherto strict arrangements began to shift and more organic forms started to emerge. By the 1930s Léger was exploring the human figure and motifs from the natural world, painted in a slightly more relaxed style: 'suddenly the objects float free in space, though still guided by a firm hand intent on the composition.' (W. Schmalenbach, Fernand Léger, London, 1991, p.29).

    This sense of space is evoked in the present composition by the pure flat blue background, which neither ties the objects to it nor provides any sense of perspective or depth. The tightly grouped forms in the centre of the work float in the midst of this pigment, unanchored. The subject can be viewed as abstract forms or perhaps a hint of a figure and a musical instrument, suggested by the sounding board and strings on the left. This lack of definition however, is intentional on the artist's part – Léger wanted to deny an easy narrative in favour of a new, universal aesthetic which would appeal to the masses, an ambition he named the 'grand subject'.

    In addition to moving away from a clear narrative, the artist pared down his pictorial vocabulary to its purest elements of colour and form, modelling shapes in pure pigments surrounded by crisp black outlines. Léger rejected a painterly approach and allowed his paintings to become almost anonymous, certainly timeless.

    'What would make a purely pictorial art popular, Léger believed, would be its possession of a 'plastic beauty' that could provide the masses with a sort of aesthetic relief. Art, he optimistically thought, could offer the working man a refuge from the speed of modernity and the toils of labour.' (C. Lanchner, Fernand Léger, New York, 1998, p.225).

Saleroom notices

  • This work will be included in the archives of the Comité Leger under reference no.02190912. Please note that the painted image illustrated in the catalogue measures 40.3 x 20.5cm (50 7/8 x 8in). The size given in the catalogue refers to the full sheet.
  1. Ruth Graham
    Specialist - Impressionist and Modern Art
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