Georges Bauquier confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Léger's romanticization of the outdoors began in the 1930s, and would continue to inspire his work for the remainder of his career. Many of his figurative subjects from this time onwards were active and life-affirming, depicted participating in outdoor scenes. Writing to a friend in 1939, the artist explains his fascination with the subject of the outdoors: "We have all achieved a reality, an indoor reality--but there is perhaps another one possible, more outdoors...The new thing in this type of big picture is an intensity ten times greater than its predecessors. We can get this intensity by the application of contrasts--pure tones and groupings of form...That is the solution for the big picture" (in C. Lanchner, Fernand Léger, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 145).
The present gouache is a prime example of Léger's idealized philosophy of the outdoors. It is the final metamorphosis of an earlier motif which the artist developed in his prewar masterpiece Composition au perroquets, 1935-1939 (Bauquier, no. 881; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris). The outdoors motif developed in Composition au perroquets is reworked in the present gouache, resulting in a compositional grouping which Léger methodically revisited in a series of works in the early 1950s. Along with two other strikingly similar pieces--a watercolor the previous year (fig. 1) and a large ceramic relief from the same year (fig.2)--the present gouache can be understood as a paean to nature in its most idyllic, Arcadian state. In the present work, Léger has eliminated the flowering plant from the right side of the 1951 watercolor and replaced it with a third figure, who sits on the fence and holds a budding branch. The parrot from the watercolor is also removed, and replaced with a large open flower. Two doves, a symbol of peace for the Communist party to which Léger belonged, face each other at the upper right, majestically hovering in space. Lastly, as opposed to the 1951 watercolor, the artist has here opted to free color from all representation and instead spreads broad bands and patches over the paper, a technique he began to use in the early 1940s.
The ceramic relief was Léger's first large-scale work in this medium. In works of this kind, he ultimately fulfilled his aspirations for "the big picture," as he wrote about in the late 1930s. The composition is nearly identical to the present lot, the only difference being that the ceramic inserts a large parrot at the center of the composition, where the gouache utilizes the two doves. The watercolor, the present gouache and a 1952 lithograph (Saphire, no. 119), can all be understood as studies leading up to the ceramic. Léger wrote that his polychromed sculpture "marks a very definite evolution toward the goal of integration with architecture. This has been a preoccupation with me from the beginning, but I commenced gradually, using my easel painting as a point of departure. Now a mural art can be defined, with all its possibilities; a static or dynamic role; its uses for either the exterior or interior of buildings" (quoted in P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, p. 246). The concept of representing nature in its idyllic, primordial state on a man-made structure is in many many ways the ultimate amalgamtion of two of Léger's most repeated themes--the outdoors and dynamic thematic groupings.
(fig. 1) Fernand Léger, Les femmes au perroquet, 1951. Sold Christie's, New York, 5 May 2005, lot 159.
(fig. 2) Fernand Léger, Les femmes au perroquet, 1952. Musée National Fernand Léger, Biot.