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Artists Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger Photo

Fernand Léger

French Painter

Movement: Cubism

Born: February 4, 1881 - Argentan, France

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

Fernand Léger Timeline


"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


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 20th-century art.


Fernand Léger Photo


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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Fernand Léger Biography Continues

Important Art by Fernand Léger

The below artworks are the most important by Fernand Léger - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Nudes in the Forest (1909-10)
Artwork Images

Nudes in the Forest (1909-10)

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1911 and is considered Léger's first major work showcasing his break from Impressionism and his alliance with Cubism, particularly in his monochromatic palette and his breaking of form into geometric shapes. Léger's focus on drawing and form rather than color also indicates his influence from Paul Cézanne. Léger's Cubism, however, was distinct from mainstream Cubism. Léger does not abandon three-dimensionality and volumetric form to the same degree as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque whose canvases from this period lack all but the merest illusion of space. Léger's interest in nature, his use of cylindrical form, and his focus on machine-like forms further distinguishes his work from that of other Cubists, while the latter aligns him with Italian Futurism, reflecting the period's optimism about the benefits of urbanization and an industrialized society. These unique qualities led the critic Louis Vauxcelles to dub Léger's style as "Tubism."

Oil on canvas - Kröller-Muller State Museum, Otterlo

Contrast of Forms (1913)
Artwork Images

Contrast of Forms (1913)

Artwork description & Analysis: Contrast of Forms was a title given by Léger to a series of paintings completed between 1912 and 1914 in which the artist experimented with the boundaries between abstraction and representation, flatness and three-dimensionality, problems that would occupy him throughout his career. Léger shows his ability to represent volumetric form without the illusion of three dimensions, abstracting both human and mechanical forms. The works exemplify what Léger referred to as the "law of contrasts" in which the greatest opposition or dissonance in line, form, and color are sought. Like Picasso and Braque in their Synthetic Cubist phase, Léger also brings color into these works, particularly blue, red, and yellow; these were typically added very sparsely only after the line and without a smooth finish. These paintings were the first non-representational works to emerge from Cubism and seem to burst with volume and pattern, while giving an overall impression of floating shapes on a flat surface. The painting again exemplifies Léger's unique contribution to Cubism in its use of shading to depict spatial recession and his reliance on mechanical forms.

Oil on canvas - MOMA, New York

The Card Players (1917)
Artwork Images

The Card Players (1917)

Artwork description & Analysis: Léger worked on this painting as he was recovering from a gas attack during World War I. The work shows the continuing influence of Cézanne, who painted several canvases devoted to this subject matter in the 1890s, as well as Léger's burgeoning interest in the human figure after the trauma of his war experience that gave him an appreciation for ordinary men and crude reality. In referring to the work in 1954, Léger says it was an attempt "deliberately to extract subject from the times" and indeed the helmets and medals of the men mark them as soldiers. His interest in subject matter and three-dimensionality again sets him apart from other Cubists. His color palette remains largely primary and he continues to show his skill in depicting movement, which is highly advanced in The Card Players as the work almost appears as a film sequence.

Oil on canvas - Kröller-Muller State Museum, Otterlo

More Fernand Léger Artwork and Analysis:

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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.
View Influences Chart


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

Personal Contacts

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



Influences on Artist
Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger
Years Worked: 1905 - 1955
Influenced by Artist


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

Personal Contacts

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


Mexican MuralismMexican Muralism
Social RealismSocial Realism
Pop ArtPop Art

Useful Resources on Fernand Léger





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.


Léger: The Monumental Art Recomended resource

By Yvonne Brunhammer, Pierre Descargues


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

The Heroic Object and Fernand Léger Recomended resource

By Kenneth Rexroth

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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