Fernand LÉGER
(Argentan, 1881 - Gif-sur-Yvette, 1955)

Abstract Composition, Mosaic Project

22.5 x 55 cm.(8 78 x 21 58in.)
1952-1954 Gouache over pencil lines Studio Stamp Monogram lower right: FL

• Léger Estate
• Collection Georges Bauquier (1910-1997)
• Paris, Private Collection

The Artist
Contemporary with Matisse and Picasso, a friend of Duchamp and Cendrar, Fernand Léger figures among the great names from the School of Paris whose history begins with artistic emulation in Montparnasse, La Ruche, and the Bateau-lavoir. Originally from the Orne, Léger settled in Paris in 1900, where he frequented the School of Fine Arts and the Julian Academy. He worked for a while in a Post-Impressionist vein, then participated in the first Cubist experiments. Fernand Léger rapidly signed a first contract with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, which was followed by exhibitions in Paris, Moscow and New York starting in 1913. The artist’s career was brutally interrupted by World War I. Discharged as unfit for battle in 1917, after having never ceased drawing at the front, he took up painting again with an ardor matured by years of combat. Starting in that year, he signed an important contract with the dealer Léonce Rosenberg.

Theory and Principles
While his friends glued paper or employed photographs, Fernand Léger was above all a painter who pursued an intransigent search for three-dimensionality backed by profound theoretical thought on the meaning of painting. Léger, who theorized the death of the subject, thus explained

“the realistic value of a work is perfectly independent of all imitative qualities. […] In painting, of what consists what is called realism? […] I would say that to my mind, pictorial realism is the simultaneous ordering of three great plastic quantities: Lines, Forms, and Colors. No work can pretend to pure classicism, that is to say, in the long-term independently of the period of creation, if one of these quantities is completely sacrificed to the detriment of the other two.”

Our Composition
Executed at the very end of Léger’s life, our Abstract Composition is a synthesis of these principles. The work is a project for a mosaic, a technique for which the artist had become famous in 1950 with the decor of the façade of the Church of Our Lady of All Grace on the plateau of Assy. In a horizontal format, he has conceived a jewel of equilibrium between line, form, and color. Black outlines structure the drawing, brought out by flat surfaces of bright colors in a palette reduced to red, yellow, blue, and water green which alternates with spaces which have been left white. Red circles in the upper right are answered by curves in the opposite corner which recall the guitars which are often present in Leger’s pictures – for example, Flower and Guitar (1951, private collection, or Composition with a Guitar, n.d., private collection.) In the upper left, diamond shapes evoke a stained glass window, an echo of the preoccupations of the artist who produced the models for the stained glass windows for the Church of Audincourt in 1950, through the intermediary of Father Couturier. Equilibrium is strengthened by corresponding yellows and blue-greens in the lower right quarter of a composition which refuses to “trick the senses” with illusion or perspective.
Convincing in its serene harmonies, our gouache is in fact the fruit of long labor coming to blossom.

Fernand Leger thus confided to Dora Vallier:

“I studied hard. I am extremely slow in my work. I don’t know how to improvise. The more I examine myself, the more I see that I am a classic. I do long preparatory work. I first make a lot of drawings, after that, I do gouaches, and finally I move on to the canvas, but when I attack it, I am 80% assured. I know where I am going,”

Our Composition belonged to Georges Bauquier, whose name is inseparable from that of Fernand Léger. Born in 1910 in Aigues-Mortes, Bauquier entered Léger’s studio in 1936 as a student, and subsequently became the artist’s treasurer. Following Léger’s work attentively, Bauquier undertook the construction of the Museum in Biot with Nadia Léger after Léger’s death. He bequeathed many works to the museum and was its director until 1993, before he died four years later.

Our work will be included in the forthcoming Répertoire des œuvres sur papier de Fernand Léger being prepared by Mme. Irus Hansma (certificate of authenticity on November 12th, 2010.)

General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Fernand Léger. Paris- New York, exh. cat. Basel, Beyeler Foundation , 2008.
Léger monumental, exh. cat., Les Abattoirs, Toulouse, 2005.
Fernand Léger, exh. cat. Musée des Beaux-arts, Lyon, 2004.
Pierre Descargues, Fernand Léger, Paris, Cercle d’art, 1997.
Fernand Léger, Fonction de la peinture, augmented edition, Paris, Gallimard, 2004.
Fernand Léger, exh. cat. ., Paris, Centre Pompidou, 1997.
Fernand Léger, une correspondance poste restante, Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, Hors-série Archives, 1997.
Serge Fauchereau, Fernand Léger, un peintre dans la cité, Paris, Albin Michel, 1994.
Jean Cassou, Jean Leymarie, Fernand Léger : dessins et gouaches, Paris, Chêne, 1972.

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