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    Sale 2165

    Impressionist and Modern Day Sale

    7 May 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 271

    Fernand Leger (1881-1955)

    Le cinq de trèfle

    Price Realised  


    Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
    Le cinq de trèfle
    signed and dated 'F. LEGER 47' (lower right); signed and dated again and titled 'F LEGER, 47 LE 5 de TREFLE' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    19 3/8 x 25¾ in. (49.2 x 65.4 cm.)
    Painted in 1947

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    Fernand Léger painted his spirited, colorful and pulsing still life Le cinq de trèfle in 1947, the year following his return to France at the end of the Second World War. With a renewed passion and determination, more than ever Léger set about to create paintings that embodied both aesthetic and social concerns. Indeed this was the period that led to his celebrated 1950 masterpiece, Les Constructeurs, the final version of which is in the Musée National Fernand Léger, Biot, France.

    As is the case for that work, Le cinq de tràfle is filled with a riot of bright and vivacious colors. These are thrust into even bolder relief through the contrasting forms that make up this still life. Along with the dice, cards and counters on the surface is a range of strange, sometimes amorphous plants, flowers and almost Arp-like growths that show the painter's continued fascination with Surrealist forms. Not unlike the pieces of a mechanical apparatus, the forms here may interlock into a unified whole, but without the illusion of unity, for the composition's sense of order has a decidedly rambunctious feel to it. Items of mass consumption are juxtaposed with organic elements for neither narrative purpose nor abstract effect, but fundamentally to function as part of a construction. Léger himself explained his conceptual approach in the following way:

    The plastic life, the picture, is made up of harmonious relationships among volumes, lines, and colours. These are the three forces that must govern works of art. If, in organising these three essential elements harmoniously, one finds that objects, elements of reality, can enter into the composition, it may be better and may give the work more richness. But they must be subordinated to the three essential elements mentioned above (quoted in C. Lanchner, Fernand Léger, exh.cat., New York, 1998, p. 247).

    In Le cinq de trèfle the vibrant jostle of forms, with the contrasts between the gaming pieces, the girder and the various plants and flowers, testifies to Léger's concern with color, line and volume, but especially color. "Colour is a human need like water and fire," he explained the year before Le cinq de trèfle was painted. "It is a raw material indispensable to life. In every period of his existence and history, man has associated it with his joys, his acts, and pleasures" (quoted in E.F. Fry, ed., Léger, Functions of Painting, London, 1973, p. 149). These words Léger wrote shortly after returning to a depleted and damaged France in 1946. Falling back in love with his homeland, he worked especially to bring aesthetic ideas into the everyday. Le cinq de trèfle fulfils that function, presenting itself as a playful still life, a rhythmic, energetic celebration of the simple things, and crucially a beacon of the joy in color, a joy able to illuminate our lives.


    Lavialle collection, Bort-les-Orgues.
    Private collection, France.
    Roger Hauert, Paris (acquired from the above, 1971).

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Hauert Family Collection


    Much has been said and written about Fernand Léger's fascination with 20th century music, from Antheil's Ballet Mécanique to American jazz. Another well-documented formative aspect of his life revolves around his personal experience of the violent dislocation brought on by war. As a young man in the First World War he survived a near fatal injury from a mustard gas attack. His signature machine-like forms, beginning in the late teens, are deemed a direct outgrowth of his encounter with the modern arsenal of destruction. Then the Second World War proved for him to be another transformative moment, when, an exile in New York, he confronted and integrated the bewildering, ever dynamic aesthetic of the vertical metropolis.

    Let us now touch upon the life trajectory of Roger Hauert, without whom there is no Hauert family collection, and certainly no Hauert family connection to Léger. Our story begins in Paris, where Roger Hauert was born in 1911, a scant few years before the outbreak of the First World War. The conflagration left its imprint on the boy, in the form of grievous wounds sustained by his soldier father. The elder Hauert succumbed to his injuries after five long, painful years, leaving behind two young sons and a wife.

    At seventeen, with nary a sou in his pocket, Roger struck out on his own, working as a courier at the Paris stock exchange, and in rather short order garnering degrees for several professions. He did not settle on becoming an attorney until, sensing the approach of another great war, he had earned his stripes as a staff officer in the French army. Having rubbed shoulders long enough with de Gaulle at headquarters prior to the start of hostilities, he chose not to join the leader of Free France in June 1940, returning instead to an occupied capital. There the sadness of the ensuing years under the Nazi boot was alleviated by his closeness to the pianist Alfred Cortot. Roger himself was accomplished at the keyboard, and clearly the bond between the two men had deep mutual resonance.

    Cortot introduced his young disciple to Henri Matisse. The acquaintance paved the way for Roger Hauert into the Paris art world. Self-made, energetic and ambitious, he wasted little time revving up his career in the postwar context. By 1947, the very year Le cinq de trèfle was painted, he acquired his first work of art.

    Through his efforts as a lawyer on behalf of musical interpreters first, and later visual artists, Roger Hauert led the charge in the pioneering French jurisprudence and subsequent law, as of 1957, defending an artist's droit moral. The concept stems from the Romantic notion of authorship as unique and inalienable. Rooted in natural law, it is nothing less than a celebration of creative genius. Roger Hauert's passionate advocacy for this right fed straight into the relationships, as both counsel and friend, that he developed with several luminaries of 20th century art in France, the likes of Georges Braque, André Derain, Jacques Villon, Maurice de Vlaminck, and yes, Fernand Léger. In the latter case, painter and lawyer, though a generation apart, had a ready rapport, forged in the crucible of history, nurtured by a shared affinity for the music of their time. Unfortunately they met just a couple of years before Léger's death in 1955, and we are left to wonder what more a longer interaction might have allowed them to discover and relish in each other.

    -Francis Hauert


    G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné, 1944-1948, Paris, 2000, p. 166, no. 1258 (illustrated).