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    Sale 2045

    Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale

    6 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 3

    Fernand Leger (1881-1955)

    Femme aux perroquets

    Price Realised  


    Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
    Femme aux perroquets
    signed with initials and dated 'F.L. 41' (lower right)
    gouache, brush and India ink on board
    69½ x 48 in. (176.5 x 122 cm.)
    Painted in 1941

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    Léger's arrival in New York in November 1940 marked the beginning of his war-time exile, which lasted for the next five years. He had visited America twice before during the 1930s and fully appreciated its "unbelievable vitality... You must go fast--there is no time to lose." In May 1941 he moved into a studio at 80 West 40th Street and resumed painting. There were new subjects related to his change in surroundings, but he also picked up where he left off with other ideas before the war; he stated, "My work continues and develops independently of my geographical position... A work of art is the result of an inner condition. Perhaps the rhythm or the climate of New York enables me to work faster. That's all" (quoted in W. Schmalenbach, Léger, 1976, p. 142).

    One of the pre-war themes that Léger revisited was the mingling of birds and female figures--Les femmes aux perroquets--as seen in this unusually large gouache, in which he renewed his investigation into the nature of "figures in space." The imagery refers to his recent masterwork Composition aux perroquets, 1935-1939 (Bauquier, no. 881; fig. 1), a monumental, mural-size painting in which Léger created the paradigm for the pictorial conception that would guide his art into the post-war period. Visual contrasts in terms of subject, form and color would henceforth interact on a huge scale. Placed among the gargantuan figures of three nude women and a clothed man, the two parrots are, ironically, among the smallest of the elements in the mural--in fact, Léger added them at the last minute to serve as color accents and points of visual focus. Their unexpected presence, however, had the eye-stopping effect of dominating the picture, to which they gave its title.

    Léger has retained in the present gouache the modeled forms of the figures in the mural, which he has rendered here with thick black outlines and concentrations of dense hatching. He transformed the dark cloud-like forms in the background of the mural into a thicket of plant tendrils and foliage. The figures and birds--the latter are now even larger in scale than the women--are completely intertwined and have even become immeshed with the background, giving the composition the all-over rippled effect of a quilted surface. Using the tan color of the sheet as a unifying tonality, Léger distributed sporadic accents in red, pale blue, green and yellow, infusing the composition with a pulsating, circulatory rhythm that transforms what is essentially a shallow, filigree surface into a swirling baroque fantasia.

    This gouache was probably painted in conjunction with the oil painting La femme au perroquet, 1941 (Bauquier, no. 1087; private collection). In this canvas the woman and bird are viewed so close up that it is difficult to overlook the sexual innuendo in this subject matter, even if Léger might have pleaded that he was only dealing in his doctrinaire contrasts of form for plastic effect only. While retaining the smudged contour effect to suggest modeled depth in his forms, the artist has introduced into this composition the floating bands of solid color by which he sought to break up the flatness of the wall plane. In fact, in another related painting, Les deux femmes à l'oiseau, also done in 1941 (Bauquier, no. 1088; private collection), Léger virtually accomplished the leap from modeled form and local color to the mural style of linear contour and color band. Within a few months of his arrival in the United States, Léger had effectively laid out the pictorial strategy that he would employ in the great murals of his final decade, including La Grande Parade, 1954 (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York).

    (fig. 1) Fernand Léger, Composition aux deux perroquets, 1935-1937. Musée nationale d'art moderne-Centre de création industrielle, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. BARCODE 25995060


    Fernand Léger, Paris; sale, Parke Bernet Galleries, New York, 11 December 1948, lot 81.
    Mr. and Mrs. Harold Rome, New York.
    Baron F. Rolin, Brussels.
    Anon. sale, Palais Galliéra, Paris, 12 June 1974, lot 160.
    Enrico Macias, Paris.
    Jeffrey H. Loria & Co., Inc, New York (acquired from the above).
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 20 November 1997.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from a Private American Collection


    R. Buck, E. Fry and C. Kotick, Fernand Léger, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1982, p. 46 (illustrated).
    P. Descargues, Léger, Paris, 1995, p. 147 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 146).


    Paris, Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées, Art contemporain, May-June 1963.
    Jerusalem, Israel Museum, Fernand Léger: Oeuvres sur papier, April-June 1989, no. 93 (illustrated in color, p. 151).