Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955) Composition aux quatre figures, affiche pour l'entente entre les peuples pour le désarmement contre la guerre microbienne
Lot 21* AR
Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955) Composition aux quatre figures, affiche pour l'entente entre les peuples pour le désarmement contre la guerre microbienne
Sold for £ 85,250 (US$ 112,943) inc. premium

Lot Details
Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955) Composition aux quatre figures, affiche pour l'entente entre les peuples pour le désarmement contre la guerre microbienne
Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955)
Composition aux quatre figures, affiche pour l'entente entre les peuples pour le désarmement contre la guerre microbienne
signed and inscribed 'a Lydmila/ Kassatkina/ notre chére tigresse/ нашей дорогой тигрице [our dear tigress]'/ FLeger' (lower right)
pencil and gouache on paper
58 x 40.5cm (22 13/16 x 15 15/16in).
Executed circa 1952-1955


    Lyudmila Kasatkina, Moscow (gifted directly by the artist, 1955).
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    This work will be included in the archives of the Comité Léger under reference no.2012180402.

    Expressed with an arresting graphic immediacy, Léger's Composition aux quatre figures bears a direct compositional resemblance to his celebrated painting Les trois soeurs (1952), now in the collection of the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart. The composition, with its group of boldly modelled, sculptural figures was one which he addressed repeatedly during the 1950s, and yet in each version of the scene he deliberately alters certain formal aspects so as to imbue each work with its own particular significance.

    It is characteristic of Léger to revisit imagery from his earlier work. The two standing figures from Composition aux quatre figures and Les trois soeurs for example are drawn from Les deux soeurs of 1935. However, during the latter part of his career we can detect a deliberate appropriation of previous compositions to achieve a more clearly defined ideological spirit. As Peter de Francia notes, 'One can make the claim that the pictures done in the last ten years of his life become more didactic, more preoccupied with thematic content, and more ideological - the reverse of simplification in terms of content - than anything he had previously painted...These changes were brought about in a number of ways... he radically reinforced his colour. He coupled this with the use of imagery of an increasingly direct kind.' (P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven and London, 1983, p.228).

    From the outset, the poster-like quality of Les trois soeurs is harnessed by Léger to emphasise the communicative effect of Composition aux quatre figures. Set against a plane of vivid red the figures are rendered with a stark clarity. The contours of their stylised and tumid forms are uncompromisingly articulated with heavy black lines. These black lines, as Léger explained, 'gave the required intensity, and by relying on it I was able to prise out the colour: for instead of conscribing it by contours I was able to place it freely outside them.' (Fernand Léger quoted in P. de Francia, op. cit., p.254). It is this combination of linear form and monochromatic colour that gives the figures of both Les trois soeurs and Composition aux quatre figures a statuesque presence and throws them defiantly into the foreground.

    Furthering its graphic effect, Léger also introduces a textual element to Composition aux quatre figures. Indeed, it is the only known example of this particular composition which includes an inscription. Here, the juxtaposition of text and image enriches our appreciation of the otherwise familiar scene and directs the emotive response of the viewer. Meanwhile, Léger also implements subtle compositional adjustments and substitutions to further illustrate his message, and to ground the work with a cultural relevance.

    Prior to 1952, the year in which Les trois soeurs and possibly Composition aux quatre figures were executed, Léger had regularly exhibited at peace exhibitions in France and abroad as well as attending the first Peace Congress in Wroclaw, Poland, with Picasso, Eluard, Aimé, Cesaire and others. However, it was not until this year that Léger made an important public statement on peace at the Vienna Congress. In his 1952 address Léger condemned the waste of human life for political ends. The emotional core of his speech was drawn from his personal experience of two World Wars, in particular the First World War in which he had been a stretcher bearer and had experienced the unprecedented horror of the trenches.

    In light of this and the particular historical context, Composition aux quatre figures assumes a poignant gravitas. It was created at a time when the anxieties of the Cold War were at their height and, more specifically, during or immediately after the Korean War (1950-1953). In 1952, the French Communist Party, of which Léger was a member, was deeply unsettled by news of the McCarthy persecutions in the US, and the situation in Korea where the US was suspected of using biological weapons against the North Koreans. There was deep public concern with regard to the research and stockpiling of biological weapons, and this contributed to the general climate of fear associated with the Cold War arms race.

    Clutching a peace treaty instead of the flower, the collected group of figures in Composition aux quatre figures represents the different races of the world as they join together in harmony. The composition is re-cast as a tentative hope for the world peace as well as warning of the perils which lie ahead if disarmament is not achieved. The child, in earlier arrangements an animated accordion player, is now depicted lying motionless in the arms of the seated figure. The viewer is nonetheless left to question if this child is perhaps an innocent victim, and a symbol of foreboding for the future of humanity.

    As if to underscore this intention for accord and friendship between nations, Léger personally gifted this work to the famous Russian actress Lyudmila Ivanovna Kasatkina in early 1955. Celebrated throughout Russia and internationally, the movie starlet had played a leading role in the film 'Tiger Girl' in 1954 to great acclaim. Léger publically presented the work to the actress at a dinner in the Soviet embassy during her visit to Paris and the work is inscribed to 'our dear tigress' by both Léger himself and his wife, Nadia Khodassievitch Léger.
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