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Artists Fernand Léger

Fernand Léger

French Painter

Movement: Cubism

Born: February 4, 1881 - Argentan, France

Died: August 17, 1955 - Gif-sur-Yvette, France

Quotes

"I sometimes ask myself what contemporary painting would be like without Cézanne... Cézanne taught me to love forms and volumes; he made me concentrate on drawing. It was then that I felt that drawing must be strict and absolutely unsentimental."
Fernand Léger
"Abstract art came as a complete revelation, and then we were able to consider the human figure as a plastic value, not as a sentimental value. That is why the human figure has remained willfully inexpressive throughout the evolution of my work."
Fernand Léger
"Let us gaze wide-eyed at present-day life, which rolls, moves, and overflows alongside us. Let us endeavor to dam it up, canalize it, organize it plastically. A huge task, but feasible. . . . The intensity of the street breaks one's nerves and drives one crazy. . . . Let us organize outer life in our domain: form, color, light."
Fernand Léger
"To be free and yet not to lose touch with reality, that is the drama of that epic figure who is variously called inventor, artist or poet."
Fernand Léger

"Let us organize outer life in our domain: form, color, light."

Synopsis

Though Fernand Léger built his reputation as a Cubist, his style varied considerably from decade to decade, fluctuating between figuration and abstraction and showing influence from a wide range of sources. Léger worked in a variety of media including paint, ceramic, film, theater and dance sets, glass, print, and book arts. While his style varied, his work was consistently graphic, favoring primary colors, pattern, and bold form.

Key Ideas

Léger embraced the Cubist notion of fracturing objects into geometric shapes, but retained an interest in depicting the illusion of three-dimensionality. Léger's unique brand of Cubism was also distinguished by his focus on cylindrical form and his use of robot-like human figures that expressed harmony between humans and machines.
Influenced by the chaos of urban spaces and his interest in brilliant, primary color, Léger sought to express the noise, dynamism, and speed of new technology and machinery often creating a sense of movement in his paintings that captured the optimism of the pre-World War I period.
In its embrace of recognizable subject matter and the illusion of three dimensionality interspersed with or often simultaneous with experiments in abstraction and non-representation, Léger's work synchronizes the often competing dualities in much of twentieth-century art.

Most Important Art

Three Women (Le Grand Déjeuner) (1921)
This is one of Léger's best-known paintings. In it he retreats from the experimentation with dissonance and collage-like space that he utilized in The City. The work is a culmination of several interests in the previous decade with its depiction of three-dimensionality, its mechanical human figures, and its primary colors. The subject matter of three nude women, however, is one of the most traditional in the history of art. In part for this reason, the painting is often seen as a classic example of what is known as a "return to order" that was typical of many artists in the early 1920s as they retreated from some of their bolder pre-World War I experiments with form, space, and subject matter. Though the subject matter is not contemporary as in The Card Players, Léger is not abandoning his interest in everyday people, but is instead responding to a culture-wide interest in past art with the re-opening of the Musée de Cluny and the expansion of the Louvre to include Egyptian and Assyrian rooms.
Oil on canvas - MOMA, New York
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Biography

Childhood

Fernand Léger was born in rural Normandy on February 4, 1881 and raised by his family to take up a valuable trade, like his father who was a cattle dealer. While Léger was not encouraged to become an artist, when he showed talent for drawing, he was sent to apprentice with an architect in Caen. After finishing his military training in 1903, he studied in Paris at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and Académie Julian. During his studies, he made a living doing architectural drawings and retouching photographs. His paintings during this early period show influence from Impressionism, but the 1907 retrospective of Paul Cézanne at the Salon d'Automne changed the direction of his art.

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Early Training

In 1909, Léger moved to Montparnasse and painted early Cubist works such as Le Compotier sur la Table (1909). Though he had met Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Rousseau, his closest friends were the writers Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars. At the 1911 Salon des Indépendants, Léger exhibited paintings that led to his recognition as a major Cubist artist, particularly Nudes in the Forest (1909-1910). He continued to exhibit at the Indépendants and at the Salon d'Automne until he was drafted in 1914, returning with a head injury after being gassed at Verdun in 1916. His war experience fueled Léger's interest in the human figure. He claimed that he forgot the abstraction of 1912-13 because of the "crudeness, variety, humor, and downright perfection of certain men around me, their precise sense of utilitarian reality and its application in the midst of the life-and-death drama we were in ... made me want to paint in slang with all its color and mobility."

Mature Period

In 1920, Léger married Jeanne-Augustine Lohy and also met Le Corbusier with whom he would remain close friends. He aligned himself closely with the circle around Le Corbusier who were interested in machinery and depicting speed and motion. His clean, figurative style and retreat from abstraction in this period are evident in Three Women (Le Grand Déjeuner) of 1921. There are also obvious nods to Futurism in some of his works from this period.

Fernand Léger Biography

During the 1920s he branched out into other methods of creative expression. He illustrated books, made sets and costumes for ballet and theater performances, and even made the film, Ballet Mechanique, in 1924. It was also in 1924 that he founded a free school for modern art in Paris with Amédée Ozenfant where he taught alongside Marie Laurencin and Aleksandra Ekster.

His subject matter during the 1920s and 1930s reflected his interest in social equality. During this period, Léger began several series of paintings that have been called "cycles," which show different groups of men in action such as construction workers, cyclists, and divers. These works often combined his interest in depicting technology and machinery with a growing focus on the human form, as in Constructor series.

Late Years and Death

Léger first visited the USA in 1931 and relocated to New York City to escape World War II. Between 1940-45 Léger influenced many New York School painters and also administered a lecture series at Yale University called, "Color in Architecture." On his return to France in 1945, he joined the Communist Party. His wife died in 1950 and he was re-married to Nadia Khodossevitch in 1952. Léger became increasingly interested in large-scale public art and in the years before his death produced mosaics, stained glass windows, and murals in Europe and South America. Fernand Léger died at his home in Gif-sur-Yvette, France on August 17, 1955.

Legacy

Léger's unique form of Cubism that relied on cylindrical forms was influential to many abstract painters and sculptors, including Henry Moore, while his bold use of color in combination with his idea of art as something that "everyone can understand" inspired many Pop artists. Léger's belief that art can unify people may even have influenced community-based art as activism movements, such as Fluxus.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Fernand Léger
Interactive chart with Fernand Léger's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Claude Monet
Paul Cézanne
Henri Matisse
Wassily Kandinsky
Marc Chagall
Chaim Soutine

Friends

Piet Mondrian
Le Corbusier
Guillaume Apollinaire
Robert Delaunay
Amedee Ozenfant

Movements

Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Futurism
Fauvism
Surrealism
Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger
Years Worked: 1905 - 1955

Artists

Hans Arp
Roy Lichtenstein
James Rosenquist
Ellsworth Kelly
Frank Stella

Friends

Alvar Aalto
Paul Eluard
Paul Rosenberg
Hans Richter

Movements

Mexican Muralists
Social Realism
Neo-Plasticism
Constructivism
Pop Art

Original content written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Useful Resources on Fernand Léger

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Léger: The Monumental Art

By Yvonne Brunhammer, Pierre Descargues

Contemporary Authors: Biography - Léger, Fernand (1881-1955)

By Richard Chapman

paintings
Fernand Léger: Paris-New York

By Yve-Alain Bois, Raphael Bouvier, Christian Derouet, Brigitte Hedel-Samson, Philippe Buttner

Fernand Léger: Contrasts of Forms

By Matthew Affron

National Museum of Fernand Léger

Near Antibes, France

Fernand Léger at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Carter B. Horsley
City Review
1998

The Heroic Object and Fernand Léger

By Kenneth Rexroth
1953

Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
ArtStory: Impressionism
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
ArtStory: Paul Cézanne
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
ArtStory: Georges Braque
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau was a French self-taught painter. His most famous works, done in his characteristic flat figurative style, show surreal and dream-like scenes in primitive or natural settings.
ArtStory: Henri Rousseau
Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire was a French writer and art critic who in the early twentieth century was a member of the avant-garde group of artists based in the Montparnasse community of Paris, which included Picasso, André Breton and Henri Rousseau. He is credited with coining the term "Surrealism."
Guillaume Apollinaire
Blaise Cendrars
Blaise Cendrars
Blaise Cendrars
Blaise Cendrars was a Swiss-born French novelist and poet. Cendrars' took a modernist approach to writing, creating the "simultaneous peom," wherein his prose was intended to complement specific artists or works of art.
Blaise Cendrars
Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier was a twentieth-century Swiss-French architect, urban planner, designer, writer and painter. Heavily influenced by the Bauhaus school of design, Le Corbusier was a pioneer in modern high design. His buildings, such as the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, combine simple geometric shapes with basic functionality.
Le Corbusier
Amedee Ozenfant
Amedee Ozenfant
Amedee Ozenfant
Amedee Ozenfant was a French painter and writer, who is widely regarded for his innovative approaches to Cubism. Along with Le Corbusier, Ozenfant founded the Purist movement, a Cubist style that stressed mathematical, geometric order over decorative, painterly elements.
Amedee Ozenfant
Marie Laurencin
Marie Laurencin
Marie Laurencin
Marie Laurencin was a French painter, sculptor and printmaker who in the early years of the twentieth century frequented the social circles of Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, and for a time was romantically involved with the latter. Laurencin's work was very much a product of her time, experimenting with Cubist and abstract motifs, often using various media.
Marie Laurencin
Aleksandra Ekster
Aleksandra Ekster
Aleksandra Ekster
Aleksandra Ekster was a Russian-French designer and painter, who worked in the Cubo-Futurist, Suprematist, and Constructivist styles. Her painting studio was a rallying stage for Kiev's intellectual elite. In 1919, together with other avant-garde artists Kliment Red'ko and Nina Genke-Meller she decorated the streets and squares of Kiev and Odessa in abstract style for Revolution Festivities.
Aleksandra Ekster
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Henry Moore was an English sculptor and artist. He was best known for his abstract monumental bronze sculptures. His forms are usually abstractions of the human figure, typically depicting reclining figures, or even more commonly, the mother and child theme.
ArtStory: Henry Moore
Pop Art
Pop Art
Pop Art
British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
ArtStory: Pop Art
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus was an international network of "intermedia" artists of the 1960s who worked in fields ranging from music to performance to the visual arts. Taking their name from the Latin "to flow," Fluxus artists adopted an often anarchic and satirical approach to conventional forms of art, and their ideas paved the way for Conceptual art.
ArtStory: Fluxus
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism
Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet was a French artist who helped pioneer the painterly effects and emphasis on light, atmosphere, and plein air technique that became hallmarks of Impressionism. He is especially known for his series of haystacks and cathedrals at different times of day, and for his late Waterlilies.
ArtStory: Claude Monet
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cutouts, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
ArtStory: Henri Matisse
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
A member of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and later a teacher at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky is best known for his pioneering breakthrough into expressive abstraction in 1913. His work prefigures that of the American Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: Wassily Kandinsky
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall was a Russian-born, Jewish-French artist that reached great popularity during the twentieth century. Although his art is associated with several movements, Chagall is commonly grouped in with the German Expressionists. Much of his early work was credited with synthesizing visual elements of Cubism, Symbolism and Fauvism.
ArtStory: Marc Chagall
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine was a Jewish Expressionist painter whose textured, impasto style was influential for later gestural painters. He is especially known for his portraits, landscapes, and studies of flayed meat.
ArtStory: Chaim Soutine
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a modern Dutch artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed Neo-plasticism.
ArtStory: Piet Mondrian
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay
Robert Delaunay was a French avant-garde painter. Early in his career he was associated with the Expressionist group The Blue Rider along with Kandinsky and Klee. Delaunay's singular style is referred to as Orphism; an approach that combines visual elements of Cubism, Expressionism and figurative abstraction.
Robert Delaunay
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
ArtStory: Post-Impressionism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
ArtStory: Futurism
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism was an early twentieth-century art movement founded by Henri Matisse and André Derain. Labeled as "wild beasts", Fauve artists favored vibrant colors and winding gestural strokes across the canvas.
ArtStory: Fauvism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism
Hans Arp
Hans Arp
Hans Arp
Hans Arp (also known as Jean Arp) was a German-French artist who incorporated chance, randomness, and organic forms into his sculptures, paintings, and collages. He was involved with Zurich Dada, Surrealism, and the Abstraction-Creation movement.
Hans Arp
Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein was an American painter and a pioneer of the Pop art movement. His signature reproductions of comic book imagery eventually redefined how the art world viewed high vs. lowbrow art. Lichtenstein employed a unique form of painting called the Benday dot technique, in which small, closely-knit dots of paint were applied to form a much larger image.
ArtStory: Roy Lichtenstein
James Rosenquist
James Rosenquist
James Rosenquist
James Rosenquist is an American Pop artist whose paintings feature fragments of faces, cars, consumer goods, and other items in bizarre juxtapositions. With their realist rendering and attention to surface textures, his works take up the visual language of advertising and entertainment.
James Rosenquist
Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly is an American Color Field and Hard edge painter. Kelly got his start in the late 1950s with showings at the Betty Parsons Gallery and the Whitney Museum. His work often consists of shaped canvases, simple geometric shapes, and large panels of uniform color.
ArtStory: Ellsworth Kelly
Frank Stella
Frank Stella
Frank Stella
Frank Stella is an American artist whose geometric paintings and shaped canvases underscore the idea of the painting as object. A major influence on Minimalism, his iconic works include nested black and white stripes and concentric, angular half-circles in bright colors.
ArtStory: Frank Stella
Alvar Aalto
Alvar Aalto
Alvar Aalto
Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was a twentieth century Finnish architect and designer. Aalto was a pioneer in what came to be known as Nordic Modern. He gained international acclaim with his Finnish Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair, and later took a teaching post at MIT.
Alvar Aalto
Paul Eluard
Paul Eluard
Paul Eluard
Paul Eluard was a French poet, and one of the original participants in the French Surrealism movement, forming strong ties with the likes of Breton, Aragon and Ernst. Eluard was also active in the French Resistance during World War II, but later in life joined the Communist Party, became a Stalin sympathizer and renounced the Surrealism movement.
Paul Eluard
Paul Rosenberg
Paul Rosenberg
Paul Rosenberg
Paul Rosenberg was a French art dealer who represented such artists as Picasso, Braque and Matisse. In the 1940s Rosenberg moved to New York City to open a gallery, and was among the few dealers who helped increase U.S. awareness of the modern masters.
Paul Rosenberg
Hans Richter
Hans Richter
Hans Richter
Hans Richter was a German-born American painter, graphic artist and experimental auteur. Associated with the German Expressionist group The Blue Rider, and later with the Dada movement and the Dutch periodical De Stijl, Richter's life work is renowned for spanning much of the twentieth-century modern canon.
Hans Richter
Mexican Muralists
Mexican Muralists
Mexican Muralists
The Mexican Muralists were active in the first half of the twentieth century, especially in the 1930s. The large-scale works, executed in Mexico and the US, were frequently done in a figurative, allegorical style, and dealt with political, social, and radical themes.
Mexican Muralists
Social Realism
Social Realism
Social Realism
Social Realism refers to a style of figurative art with social concerns - generally left-wing. Inspired in part by nineteenth-century Realism, it emerged in various forms in the twentieth century. Political radicalism prompted its emergence in 1930s America, while distaste for abstract art encouraged many in Europe to maintain the style into the 1950s.
ArtStory: Social Realism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism was the guiding philosophy behind the art of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and many of his peers in the De Stijl circle. Articulated by Mondrian in 1917-18, the approach stipulates the strict use of only horizontal and vertical lines; the primary colors red, yellow, and blue; and white, gray, and black.
Neo-Plasticism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
ArtStory: Constructivism