FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955) L'Equipe au repos 19 3/4 x 25 5/8 in (50 x 65 cm) (Executed in 1948)

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Lot 11
L'Equipe au repos 19 3/4 x 25 5/8 in (50 x 65 cm)

Sold for US$ 408,500 inc. premium

Impressionist & Modern Art

13 Nov 2018, 17:00 EST

New York

FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
L'Equipe au repos
signed and dated 'F.L. 48.' (lower right)
gouache on paper
19 3/4 x 25 5/8 in (50 x 65 cm)
Executed in 1948


  • Provenance
    The Artist's estate.
    Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, no. 30535 (acquired from the above).
    Steven Hahn Gallery, Chicago.
    Acquired from the above on April 23, 1969.

    "I've disassociated the color from the design. I've liberated the color from the form by disposing it over large areas without making it fit the contours of objects. " F. Léger

    "Color is a vital necessity. It is a raw material indispensable to life, like water and fire. Man's existence is inconceivable without an ambience of color." F. Léger

    Executed in 1948, L'Equipe au repos exemplifies Léger's aesthetic experimentation with the relationship between line and color. Composed predominantly of large blocks of primary and secondary colors over boldly modeled black figures, the present work encapsulates Léger's belief that, "Truth in painting is color at its fullest: red, black, yellow since the pure tone in painting is reality" (Fernand Léger, "The Question of 'Truth'" in plus: orientations of contemporary architecture, February 1939, p. 18). This philosophy governed not only the color palette for the present work, but also a majority of the artist's compositions in the decade following the Second World War.

    Léger found himself drawn to New York's bright and busy streets during his stay in the United States (1940-1945), where he lived during the Second World War. The appearance of flat, geometric color planes of red, yellow, and green highlighting the group of figures in L'Equipe au repos was undoubtedly inspired by the flashing lights of Broadway, a thoroughfare running through the heart of Manhattan. Speaking to Dora Vallier in 1952, Léger explained: "In 1942, when I was in New York, I was struck by the advertising spotlights on Broadway which played upon the street. You're talking to someone and all of a sudden, he becomes blue. As soon as that color passes another comes, and he becomes red or yellow. That kind of color, the color of the spotlight, is free; free in space. I would like to have the same thing in my canvases. It is very important for mural painting because that has no scale, but I have also used them in my easel paintings" (F. Léger quoted in D. Vallier, "La vie fait l'oeuvre de Fernand Léger," Cahiers d'Art, no. 2, 1954, p. 156). The influence of city lights is apparent in the present composition by the artist's use of vibrant sweeping strokes of boundaryless color across the leisured men's bodies and faces.

    Léger reflected on his stay in America with great enthusiasm, explaining, "During these years in America I do feel that I have worked with a greater intensity and achieved more expression than in my previous work. In this country there is a definitely romantic atmosphere in the good sense of the word - an increased sense of movement and violence... I prefer to see America through its contrasts - its vitality, its litter and its waste... What has come out most notably... in the work I have done in America is in my opinion a new energy - an increased movement within the composition" (Léger quoted in C. Lanchner, Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), New York, 1998, p. 234).

    Léger's stay in America was an extraordinarily prolific period marked by the completion of approximately one hundred and twenty paintings. He responded to the power and hardness of the United States by observing that "In America all is rough and strong, like the climate" (Léger quoted in Katherine Kuh, Léger (exhibition catalogue), New York, p. 69). Léger understood America, its complexity, humor and vulgarity, recognizing its beauty not only in conventional terms, but also in popular symbols found on post cards, crowded store windows and Broadway lights. The artist poetically described New York by reflecting that, "If you look up you can see on the top of the roofs geometric fantasies-thousands of metallic structures are silhouetted in the sky and play with the light" (ibid). The freedom of America finds expression in Léger's liberation of color and his desire to convey the American ideals for mobility by eliminating the restriction of boundary lines.

    This free and joyful method of employing color without regard to forms or boundaries is prominent not only in Leger 's American works, but also in his work following the war. Léger explained his stylistic objective for his paintings in this post-war period in the following terms: "I've separated color from drawing and liberated it from shape by arranging it in large color fields without forcing it to follow the outlines of objects" (quoted in Fernand Léger, Paris-New York (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2008, p. 98). L'Equipe au repos exemplifies Léger's firm commitment to a populist aesthetic and his fascination with the expressive potential of color, the two defining stylistic components of the final decade of his oeuvre.

    Daringly modeled and executed with an expressive palette of primary colors, L'Equipe au repos belongs to one of Léger's most important post-war series. The present work is one of several variations on the theme of cyclists and leisurists that Léger produced between 1944 and the early 1950s. This important series culminated with the completion of Léger's masterpiece, Les Loisirs, Hommage à Louis David, now in the permanent collection at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The year Les Loisirs, Hommage à Louis David was completed also was the year the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris commemorated the bicentennial of Jacques-Louis David's birth. In celebration of this occasion, Léger depicted a reclining woman in the foreground of the composition holding a paper inscribed Hommage à Louis David, a reference to David's famous painting, The Death of Marat (1793), which depicted the murdered leader of the French Revolution. Having joined the French communist party in 1945, Léger not only sympathized with the martyrdom of Marat, but also connected his depiction of a working-class pastime we see in L'Equipe au repos with a reference to politically engaged art. In Léger's post-war period, he abandoned abstraction, which he deemed elitist and inaccessible to the masses, and embraced a more figural representation of the ordinary people that surrounded him, including the working classes.

    While L'Equipe au repos was executed upon Léger's return to France, the leisurists with their bicycles are closely related to paintings done in the United States. As in his American works, the color in L'Equipe au repos is strong and brilliant. The artist's Leisure series, the first major series produced by the artist after his return to France, is full of optimism and assurance, a fitting canvas to commemorate the coming of peace. Like his great masterpiece Les Loisirs, Hommage à Louis David, the present work is the perfect amalgamation of Léger's liberated American compositions, combined with post-war joie de vivre.

    L'Equipe au repos is distinguished by its important early provenance. Executed in 1948, this significant work remained in Léger's personal collection until his death in 1955, when it was acquired by Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris from the artist's estate. The work later was acquired by Stephan Hahn, an influential New York art dealer who sold it to the present owner in April 1969.
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