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Artists Fernand Léger
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Fernand Léger

French Painter

Movement: Cubism

Born: February 4, 1881 - Argentan, France

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

Fernand Léger Timeline

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."

Fernand Léger Signature

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

Fernand Léger Famous 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.
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Fernand Léger Artworks in Focus:

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.

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.

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Fernand Léger Biography Continues

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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View Influences Chart

Artists

Claude MonetClaude Monet
Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
Marc ChagallMarc Chagall
Chaim SoutineChaim Soutine

Friends

Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Le CorbusierLe Corbusier
Guillaume ApollinaireGuillaume Apollinaire
Robert DelaunayRobert Delaunay
Amedee OzenfantAmedee Ozenfant

Movements

ImpressionismImpressionism
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
FuturismFuturism
FauvismFauvism
SurrealismSurrealism
Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger
Years Worked: 1905 - 1955

Artists

Hans ArpHans Arp
Roy LichtensteinRoy Lichtenstein
James RosenquistJames Rosenquist
Ellsworth KellyEllsworth Kelly
Frank StellaFrank Stella

Friends

Alvar AaltoAlvar Aalto
Paul EluardPaul Eluard
Paul RosenbergPaul Rosenberg
Hans RichterHans Richter

Movements

Mexican MuralismMexican Muralism
Social RealismSocial Realism
Neo-PlasticismNeo-Plasticism
ConstructivismConstructivism
Pop ArtPop Art

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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 of 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 Recomended resource

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

More Interesting Books about Fernand Léger
National Museum of Fernand Léger Recomended resource

Near Antibes, France

Fernand Léger at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Carter B. Horsley
City Review
1998

The Heroic Object and Fernand Léger Recomended resource

By Kenneth Rexroth
1953

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