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    Sale 2256

    The Modern Age: The Hillman Family Collection

    5 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 5

    Fernand Leger (1881-1955)

    Etude pour Le Modèle nu dans l'atelier

    Price Realised  


    Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
    Etude pour Le Modèle nu dans l'atelier
    signed with initials and dated 'F.L. '12' (lower right)
    oil, gouache and brush and black ink on paper laid down on board
    25 1/8 x 19 in. (63.8 x 48.3 cm.)
    Painted in 1912

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    This boldly dynamic composition in black and white gouache is a study that Léger executed during late 1912 in preparation for the painting Le modèle nu dans l'atelier, which he completed in early 1913 (fig. 1). Léger exhibited this radically prescient canvas at the Salon des Indépendants that spring, and then embarked on his pioneering foray into pure, non-representational painting, the iconic series of Contrastes de formes, which occupied him during the remainder of 1913 and into early 1914.

    An important study for the Contrastes was sold at Christie's New York almost exactly a year ago (fig. 2). In comparison it becomes evident that the present étude already contains many of the elements that were to characterize the Contrastes--those increasingly distilled pure forms that contend with one another in a brashly dissonant counterpoint--and in fact Léger by this time, in late 1912, had basically found and was in the process of perfecting the graphic framework for contrasting forms, using black linear curves and angles that jostle and collide on the page, set off with white accents that create the effect of a flat pane of glass shattered into a multitude of compacted reflecting shards. There remained only one last thing that Léger needed to cast off in order to realize pure, non-representational painting--the subject itself. This had been an essential aspect of Western art from the very beginning, but now it had to go, although echoes of its forms might persist. And in the revolutionary Contrastes Léger did just that, if only for a brief time, as he breathed the rarified air of abstract, non-representational painting, before returning less than a year later to the familiar world of objects.

    The years 1910-1914, those immediately preceding the outbreak of the First World War, marked the ascendancy of Cubism as the unrivaled impetus in progressive modern painting. In the inaugural February 1912 issue of the review Soirées de Paris, the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire drew attention to a new set of issues that were preoccupying a handful of painters: the significance of the subject and the development of pure painting. Cubism had opened the gates to alternative visual realities, and pure painting was now the new frontier. Apollinaire wrote: "Verisimilitude no longer has any importance, for the artist sacrifices everything to the composition of his picture. The subject no longer counts, or if it counts, it counts for very little. An entirely new art is thus being evolved, an art that will be to painting, as painting has hitherto been envisaged, what music is to literature It will be pure painting, just as music is pure literature ("On the Subject in Modern Painting," reprinted in L.C. Breunig, Apollinaire on Art, Boston, 2001, p. 197).

    Apollinaire had witnessed the subject dissolving and becoming nearly indecipherable in the cubist paintings of his friends Braque and Picasso, during what is referred to today as their "high analytical" phase of 1911-1912. In declaring the advent of pure painting Apollinaire also had in mind the works of another artist whom he deeply admired, Léger, whom he described as "one of the gifted artists of his generation. He is a painter, a simple painter, and I rejoice in his simplicity and in the solidity of his judgement" (in "Les Peintres Cubistes," H.C. Chipp, ed., Theories of Modern Art, Berkeley, 1968, p. 243).

    Léger sought to counter the increasing impact of Italian Futurism, whose attraction stemmed from its use of modern, cosmopolitan subjects, depicted in motion. He wished to supplant their illusory dynamism with a true pictorial dynamism. At the same time Léger also wished to move beyond the influence of Cézanne, whose work had made an overwhelming impression on him when he saw the master's memorial retrospective at the 1907 Salon d'Automne. Léger had shared with Cézanne an interest in static subjects and a constructive means of composition, but now felt that the accelerating pulse of modern life required a newer, more radical approach that would embody these new sensations.

    Léger's La femme en bleu (Bauquier, no. 39; fig. 3), painted in mid-1912 and shown at the Salon d'Automne that year, was his answer to these issues. He took a stable subject--as in a Cézanne portrait, but unlike that which a Futurist would treat--and invested it with extreme formal contrasts: flatly colored planes opposing modeled tubular, conical and cylindrical forms. He not only visualized his subject as the "cylinder, the cone, the sphere," as Cézanne had once advised in a letter to Emile Bernard (J. Rewald, ed., Paul Cézanne Letters, New York, 1995, p. 301), he painted it as such. "[Cezanne's] grip was so strong," Léger recalled in 1954, "that to get free of it I had to go as far as abstraction" (quoted in C. Green, op. cit., p. 52). The result was an composition that did not render the illusion of motion in the Futurist manner, but was expressive and dynamic in terms of its own invented pictorial forms.

    Léger executed the present gouache study during the final months of 1912, as he conceived his next major painting, Le Modèle nu dans l'atelier, (fig. 1), which he commenced toward the end of the year, and completed during the early months of 1913. As he recorded on the reverse of this canvas, he sent it to the Salon des Indépendants that spring. Christopher Green has written:

    "The fact is that Léger did not 'abstract' this nude, extracting from the model simplified forms and qualities, rather he translated it into a range of forms 'abstracted' from other subjects--the movement of smoke and foliage in landscape and cityscape... The model as necessary starting point was now totally redundant, for his vocabulary of contrasting forms had been purified to the extent of all-embracing versatility. So far, indeed, had Léger moved from the model that the resolved conflict between the descriptive and anti-descriptive in La femme en bleu was at last superceded--descriptive form had finally been removed from his repetoire" (ibid., pp. 53-54).

    Professor Green has suggested that Léger painted Le modèle nu dans l'atelier in part as a response to Marcel Duchamp's Nu descendant un escalier, painted in 1912 (fig. 4) and shown at the 1912 Salon d'Automne and the Section d'Or exhibition later that year. Duchamp had employed the Futurist technique of sequential repetition to analyze movement and to suggest the diagrammatical illusion of motion. Léger opposed this approach with his own dynamism of pure, anti-descriptive forms. In a lecture he gave at the Académie Marie Wassilief in 1914, Leger recalled the significance of the studio nude in his 1913 painting, "With the most commonplace, the most banal of subjects, a female nude in the studio... you replace advantageously locomotives and other modern machines, which are difficult to take home. Everything like this is a means to an end; there is nothing of real Interest but the manner of representation" (quoted in ibid., p. 56).

    At this stage Léger was on the verge of pure painting--only vestiges of the subject remained--and in early 1913 he took the plunge with his Contrastes de formes (figs. 2 and 5), the series that occupied him for the remainder of the year and into 1914. In a lecture he delivered this critical juncture, he stated that pictorial realism--by which he meant the absolute integrity of the picture as object in and of itself, and not as the representation of something else--was the "simultaneous ordering of three plastic components: Lines, Forms and Colors" (quoted in E. F. Fry, ed., Fernand Léger, Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, p. 4). He went on to declare, "From now on, everything can converge toward an intense realism obtained by purely dynamic means. Pictorial contrasts used in their purest sense (complementary colors, lines, and forms) are hence the structural basis of modern pictures" (ibid., p. 7).

    This Etude pour 'Le modele nu dans l'atelier--like the Dessin pour contraste de formes sold in these rooms last year--was for many years in the collection of Nell Walden (1887-1975), a Swedish painter who was married in 1912-1924 to Herwarth Walden, the director of the famous gallery Der Sturm in Berlin. Léger's pre-First World War paintings made a strong impact on German artists, thanks largely to the efforts of the Waldens, who included them in their influential Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon in the fall of 1913. Following her divorce from Herwarth, Nell Walden received a portion of the works in their collection. She subsequently married Dr. Hans Hermann Heimann, and was wed again in 1940, to Hannes Urech. The landmark sale of her extensive and important collection of modern art, which included the present work, was held at the Stuttgarter Kunstkabinet in 1954.

    (fig. 1) Fernand Léger, Le modèle nu dans l'atelier, 1913. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. BARCODE 25995107

    (fig. 2) Fernand Léger, Dessin pour contraste de formes (Composition II), 1913. Sold, Christie's New York, 6 November 2007, lot 41.BARCODE 9596399

    (fig. 3) Fernand Léger, Le femme en bleu, 1912. Kunstmuseum Basel.BARCODE 25003802

    (fig. 4) Marcel Duchamp, Nu descendant un escalier No. 2, 1912. Louis and Walter Arensberg Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art. BARCODE 25995114

    (fig, 5) Fernand Léger, Contrastes de formes, 1913. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE 25003789


    Nell Walden, Bad Schinznach (by 1928); sale, Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett, 26 November 1954, lot 1551.
    Marlborough Gallery, London.
    Alex and Rita K. Hillman, New York (acquired from the above, 1955).
    Gift from the above to the present owner, 16 October 1968.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation


    G. Apollinaire, Montjoie, 18 March 1913, p. 4 (illustrated).
    A. Flechtheim, Fernand Léger, Berlin, 1928, no. 57.
    G. Franke, Wege abstrakter Malerei, Munich, 1929, no. 35.
    H.L.F., 'Alex L. Hillman: Courbet to Dubuffet,' in Art News, October 1959, p. 34 (illustrated, p. 33).
    A.Z. Rudenstine, The Guggenheim Museum Collection: Painting 1880-1945, New York, 1976, vol. 2, pp. 459-460, no. 2 (illustrated, p. 458).
    E. Braun, Manet to Matisse: The Hillman Family Collection, Seattle and London, 1994, p. 94, no. 26 (illustrated in color, p. 95).


    Paris, Salon des Indépendants, 1913.
    Berlin, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Fernand Léger, February-March 1928, no. 57.
    Munich, Galerie Günther Franke Graphisches Kabinett, Wege abstrakter Malerei, December 1929-January 1930, no. 35.
    Bern, Berner Kunstmuseum, Der Sturm, Sammlung Nell Walden aus den Jahren 1912-1920, October 1944-March 1945, no. 336.
    Kunthaus Zurich, Sammlung Nell Walden und Dr. Othmar Huber: Expressionisten, Kubisten, Futuristen, May-June 1945, no. 105.
    Kunthalle Basel, Francis Picabia: Sammlung Nell Walden, January-February 1946, no. 230.
    Stockholm, Des Riksforbundet for bildande Konst, Wanderausstellung 132: Der Sturm, Samling Nell Walden, Expressionister, Futurister, Kubister, 1954, no. 50.
    Laramie, The Universtiy of Wyoming Art Center, The Hillman Collection, 1972.
    Jacksonville Art Museum and Corpus Christi, Art Museum of South Texas, The Alex Hillman Collection, October 1973-January 1974, no. 14 (illustrated).
    Phoenix Art Museum, Selections from the Alex Hillman Collection, January-February 1975.
    Chicago, The Smart Art Gallery, The University of Chicago, Five Works by Modern French Painters from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, October-December 1975.
    Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Fine Arts, Modern Masters: Paintings and Drawings from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, December 1977-February 1978, no. 16 (illustrated).
    New York, Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University and Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Cézanne/Léger, February-December 1980.
    Austin, University of Texas; Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Museum of Art; Hunstville Museum of Art; St. Petersberg, Museum of Art; Lawrence, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas; Huntington Gallery; Little Rock, Arkansas Art Center; Williamsburg, Joseph and Margaret Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William and Mary and Ames, Brunnier Gallery and Museum, Iowa State University, Selections from the Collection of the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, January 1979-November 1985.
    The Brooklyn Museum, Exhibition of Works from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, February 1986-January 1987.
    The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Modern Masters: French Art from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation Collection, June-August 1988.
    Phoenix, The University of Arizona Museum of Art, Paintings and Drawings from the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, December 1991-May 1992.
    Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum and Basel, Kunstmuseum, Fernand Léger 1911-1924: The Rhythm of Modern Life, May-November 1994, p. 246, no. 83 (illustrated in color, p. 84).
    New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York Collects: Drawings and Watercolors 1900-1950, May-August 1999.
    Charlottesville, University of Virginia Art Museum and Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, Fernand Léger: Contrast of Forms, January-June 2007, p. 28, no. 2 (illustrated, p. 29).