• France, Private Collection
Contemporary with Matisse and Picasso, friends with Duchamp and Cendrar, Fernand Léger figures among the great names in the Paris School whose history begins with the artistic emulation of Montparnasse and the activities which took place at the artists’ residences and meeting places known as La Ruche (the Beehive) and the Bateau-Lavoir (Boat Wash-House). Leger settled in Paris in 1900 after schooling marked by little effort and then an apprenticeship under an architect. He attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Julian Academy, worked for a while in a Post-Impressionist vein, and then participated in early cubist experiments. Léger rapidly signed a contract with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and exhibited in Paris, Moscow, and New York in 1913. His career was brutally interrupted by the First World War. Declared inapt for service and demobilized in 1917, after never having ceased to draw on the Front, Léger went back to painting with an ardor which had matured under years of combat. Starting in that year, he signed an important contract with the gallery owner Léonce Rosenberg.
Driven by an intransigent search for plasticity, Fernand Léger had a complex personality fascinated by urban life and machines; he was an icon of modernity in all its contrasts, he who did not drive and never had a telephone. When his friends used glued paper and photography, Léger found fulfillment in oil painting. The artist theorized the death of the subject, a notion inherited from the Italian Renaissance and argued that modern ideas were from now on attached to the object associated with the use of pure color. In the course of different periods in his life, he translated this sense of object in his work by painting which refused anecdote and designated more than it narrated. The objects, which were unsituated, were conceived independently from each other. Color, which was magnified, was not there to create an illusion and was liberated by the absence of subject.
Our Gouache and "Outside Color"
Our gouache, which dates to the end of Fernand Léger’s life, is a beautiful synthesis of his œuvre. A crested bird is depicted clearly drawn in large black strokes and surrounded by stylized vegetal motifs, palm fronds, and a flower. Juxtaposed and independent of the drawing, color is reduced to four hues distributed in large geometric swathes of interlocking forms.
Fernand Léger applies the idea of “outside color” which originated during his trip to New York (1940-1945).
“In the streets of New York, on Broadway, to be precise, I was struck by the colored play of advertising projectors which swept the streets. I spoke with someone, he had a blue face, and then twenty seconds later, he became yellow. The color went away, another arrived, and he became red, then green. I lifted my head and looked at the houses. They were streaked with colored bands. That impressed me a lot. This color here, this color from the projector was free and in space; I wanted to do the same thing in my pictures. It isn’t imagination, it is something seen.”
The first dissociations of color and drawing appeared in 1940 and 1941.
In 1953, Fernand Léger pushed these experiments to an extreme. The indications he gave for the creation of The Big Parade, considered the artist’s signatory accomplishment, are instructive in understanding our Landscape with a Bird which is contemporary and participates in the same aesthetic. “The more I examine myself, the more I see I am classical,” confided the painter who worked a long time at elaborating The Big Parade, as he handled drawing, then gouache, before moving on to canvas. “In the first version, color followed the forms. In the final version, one sees what force, what momentum is brought by using outside color,” he finished. It is this same dynamic yet serene movement that Fernand Léger achieves in our Landscape.
Birds in Leger’s Work
The bird is a motif which traverses different periods of Fernand Léger’s life. Parrots invade his canvas in the 1930’s. In search of details to punctuate his work and bored with flower motifs, Fernand Léger supposedly acquired this idea from one of his friends who had made a small stuffed parrot which he gave to the artist. The latter judged its effect in front of various canvases, then inserted it in his work with the monumentality for which he is known. The culmination of this search was the magistral Composition with two Parrots (1935-1939, oil on canvas, 400 x 480 cm. Paris, Pompidou Center, inv. AM 3026 P), preceded by numerous preparatory studies, and followed by other drawings until 1940, in line with Drawing inspired by “the Composition with Two Parrots,” in an aesthetic which already contains the premises of “outside color.”
The crested bird’s profile in our landscape is the same as that in the Woman with Bird, for which the first drawings appeared in 1950, and culminated in a picture of the same name in 1952. In the same vein as the drawings inspired by the Composition with Two Parrots, our Landscape with a Bird may count among these fragmentary recomposed reinterpretations of the Woman with Bird. Loose sheets of the same type can be found until the end of the artist’s life, such as Composition with Birds against a Yellow Background (1955, oil on canvas, 130 x 89 cm. Fernand Léger National Museum, Biot.)
We would like to thank Madame Irus Hansma for having confirmed the authenticity of our work (certificate dated June 22, 2008).
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Fernand Léger. Paris – New York, exh. cat. Basel, Beyeler Foundation , 2008.
Léger monumental, exh. cat. Toulouse, Les Abattoirs, 2005.
Fernand Léger, exh. cat. Lyon, Museum of Fine Arts, 2004.
Pierre DESCARGUES, Fernand Léger, Paris, Cercle d’art, 1997.
Fernand LEGER, Fonction de la peinture, enlarged edition, Paris, Gallimard, 2004.
Fernand Léger, exh. cat. Paris, Pompidou Center , 1997.
Fernand Léger, une correspondance poste restante, Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, Hors-série Archives, 1997 (lettres à Simone 1931-41).
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.