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    Sale 2045

    Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale

    6 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 70

    Fernand Leger (1881-1955)

    L'homme au melon (état définif)

    Price Realised  


    Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
    L'homme au melon (état définif)
    signed and dated 'F.LEGER 43.44' (lower right); signed and dated again and titled 'F.LEGER. L'HOMME AU MELON 1943-44' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    49 7/8 x 44 in. (126.8 x 111.7 cm.)
    Painted in 1943-1944

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    In the late 1930s and through the 1940s, Léger executed two different types of paintings. On the one hand, he worked on several monumental figure paintings, in which he employed extensive modeling and shading to invest the compositions with both light and depth. Simultaneously, he painted still-life subjects, which embrace flatness and exhibit little or no modeling. The present painting, L'homme au Melon, falls into the second category. Although there is a figure present in this work, the subject is essentially a still-life, for at this point in his career Léger considered the human figure an object like any other. In doing so he transferred the expressive value within the painting from the human figure as a subject, to the contrasts between the forms of the various elements in the composition. Léger once asserted that "All the spectacular, sentimental or dramatic manifestations of life are dominated by the laws of contrast" (in "The Human Body Considered as an Object," Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, pp. 132-3). The law of contrast--between tones and colors, straight and curved shapes, flatness and volume--was the guiding principle in Léger's oeuvre.

    In the present painting, Léger sought to create the effect of light and depth that he did through modeling by smartly juxtaposing flat shapes of contrasting color and form. The curved melon wedges stand out against the stiff vertical lines that surround them, creating both a sense of depth and spiraling movement. The three melon forms look like a vortex among the stagnant backdrop of the table and figure. Léger used the melon shape as a germinal motif in other compositions of this period to achieve similar effects (Bauquier, nos. 1003, 1036, 1044, 1048, 1090, and 1141). In other works, he used the same shape to denote a plant leaf, or simply an abstract form, employing them to highlight the contrasts between curved and angular forms in flat compositions, in which the objects exist primarily for their plastic qualities and potential, while the everyday function of the objects depicted are secondary or relatively unimportant.

    Color is another element of contrast that lends this work its sense of depth, despite the lack of conventional modeling. Bright colors placed against one another, separated by thick black outlines, create the semblance of space within the composition. Léger once wrote, "Separated objects which, depending on the color chosen for them, advance or recede on the canvas, and the background color as well, create a new space through movement, with no effect of perspective" (Léger, "New Conception of Space," ibid, pp. 181-182). In the present work, the background color is a neutral gray, against which Léger's use of thick bands of black and white emerge as striking compositional elements that further emphasize contrast and the resulting perception of movement and space.


    Nadja Léger, Paris (by descent from the artist, until at least 1972). Louis Carré, Paris.
    Private collection, New York (acquired from the above).
    Jeffrey H. Loria & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above).
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1 May 1998.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from a Private American Collection


    A. Verdet, Fernand Léger, le dynamisme pictural, Geneva, 1955, pl. 40 (illustrated).
    A. Verdet, Fernand Léger, Florence, 1969, p. 66 (illustrated in color, pl. 22).
    G. Néret, F. Léger, New York, 1993, p. 217. no. 304 (illustrated).
    G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 1998, vol. VI, p. 280, no. 1150 (illustrated in color).


    Munich, Haus der Kunst, Fernand Léger 1881-1955, March-May 1957, no. 94.
    Baden-Baden, Kunsthalle, Fernand Léger: Peintures, gouaches dessins, June-September 1967, no. 11 (illustrated).
    Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, Grand Palais, Fernand Léger, October 1971-January 1972, no. 141 (illustrated, p. 110).
    Tokyo, Seibu Galeries; Nagoya Galeries Meitetsu and Fukuoka, Centre culturel, Rétrospective Fernand Léger, 1972, no. 60 (illustrated).