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Atelier de l'artiste.
Nadia Léger, Paris (par descendance).
Galerie Tarica, Paris (acquis auprès de celle-ci).
Acquis auprès de celle-ci par Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé.
A. Verdet, Fernand Léger, Florence, 1969, p. 89, no. 10 (illustré en couleur).
P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, Londres, 1983, p. 107 (illustré, p. 111, fig. 6.4.).
"La Passion de l'Art: Yves Saint Laurent", in Du, no. 10, octobre 1986, p. 39 (illustré).
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1925-1928, Paris, 1993, p. 310, no. 580 (illustré).
J. Coignard, "Chez Pierre Bergé et Yves Saint Laurent", in Connaissance des Arts, no. 634, janvier 2006, pp. 48 et 49 (illustré en couleur).
Musée de Lyon, Fernand Léger, 1955, no. 39.
Vienne, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Fernand Léger, avril-juin 1968, no. 25.
Londres, The Tate Gallery, Léger and Purist Paris, novembre 1970-janvier 1971, p. 101, no. 73.
Paris, Grand Palais, Fernand Léger, octobre 1971-janvier 1972, p. 20, no. 107 (illustré, p. 90).
Post Lot Text
'THE BLACK PROFILE'; SIGNED AND DATED LOWER RIGHT; SIGNED, DATED AND TITLED ON THE REVERSE; OIL ON CANVAS.
If the factory was the site of Léger's most intense imaginative engagement at the end of the Great War, and the domestic interior was where he located his post-war celebrations of peace regained, by the end of the decade his most significant pictorial narratives unfold in a purely mental space, at once abstract and concrete. One of the major works of 1928, Le profil noir is, as its eponymous silhouette suggests, a picture about the workings of the mind, and the senses (Léger painted numerous works that featured profiles as key motifs, circa 1928). The painting is divided into five zones, plus an ochre border at the left, in which the dominant human shadow, probably female, generates its complementary double, rendered in chiaroscuro (apparently transformed into a lamp), and its triple, the brown profile that spreads and loses its distinctive shape as it moves towards the right. These undulating contours are bracketed on both sides by naturalistically rendered vegetal forms - three leaves at the left, and three small gourds or melons, with a bit of foliage, at the right. The previous year, leaves, seashells, and other natural forms had begun to float through Léger's canvases (fig. 1), just as a new organicism was beginning to exert its influence on Parisian aesthetics more broadly. This plethora of organic life is countered, and made vivid, by the rectilinear forms that punctuate the work and serve as framing devices for the individual shapes.
Léger was probably thinking here, among other things, about the temporal development of film as a model for his art, as if each of the vertical slices in Le profil noir were a frame of film. Not only had Leger been involved in film-making over the previous several years (he created Ballet Mécanique in 1923-24; see lot 49), but his visual ideas were being powerfully influenced by cinema. Especially important for his painting was the idea of radical and surprising cinematic juxtapositions/montages - and by the close-up: "These new means," he wrote the same year he painted Le profil noir, "have given us a new mentality. We want to see clearly, we want to understand mechanisms, functions, motors, down to their subtlest details. Composite wholes are no longer enough for us-we want to feel and grasp the details of those wholes-and we realize that these details, these fragments, if seen in isolation, have a complete and particular life of their own. Close-ups in the cinema are the consecration of this new vision."1
But if film gave Leger a new way to think about the individual object - "I myself have employed the close-up... The fragment of the object has also been of use to me; by isolating it you personalize it"2 - the movie screen also functioned as a kind of extension of that other, persistent interest of Léger's: the mural. As a public and collective form of art, as opposed to the privatized world of the easel painting (for which Léger blamed the mercantile Italian Renaissance), the mural responded to Léger's Left-wing politics. Le profil noir represents an impeccably executed balancing act of the intense subjectivity of individual experience (the spectator's own image may be imaginatively substituted for the black profile) and that of the collective life of the group, conveyed by the painting's large scale and billboard-like clarity of form. Its soigné palette, in which black-and-white is paired with ochre-yellow, brown, and blue violet, must have called out across the decades to Monsieur Saint Laurent, who was himself capable of equally striking, challenging, and satisfying coloristic innovations.
Kenneth E. Silver, November 2008.
1 Fernand Léger, "Actualités," in Variétés, no.1, 1928, in Nicholas Serota, Fernand Léger: The Later Years, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 1987, p. 31.
2 Fernand Léger, "Autour de Ballet Mécanique," (probably 1926), in Ibid., p. 31.