An authentication statement by George Bauquier of the Musée National Fernand Léger is inscribed on the verso of this work, dated 24 April 1994.
'Since the beginning of my work I used the human figure, it slowly developed towards a more realistic, less schematic representation, but as the figure becomes more realistic, the contrasts of contrary elements that will be the reason of the composition, are accentuated.'
Fernand Léger, letter dated 3 May 1952, quoted in G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Paris 1987, p. 267.
Engaging implicitly with both social and artistic theories which recurred across Léger’s œuvre, Femme à l’écharpe ranks among some of the artist’s most accomplished studies on paper. Once forming part of the esteemed collection of Gianni Versace, it characterises the Italian’s exuberant approach to life, and complemented aptly his collection’s emphasis of playful fantasy, relaxed sensuality, and celebration of humanity.
The aspect of life had become a pivotal trait of Léger’s works of this period, to which the present drawing belongs. The artist’s mechanistic forms recede in favour of more organic ones, often juxtaposed with pleasing, rhythmic contours. The elements of the composition, all recessed into a single dimensional plane, are married together succinctly, providing an aesthetic pleasure. This cohesion serves to suggest a solution to modern man’s existential dilemma, expressing to the viewer an appreciation of a simple, modest life in the post-war era. The uninterrupted contours, smoothened textures and coherent spatial construction are all features which contribute to this remedial atmosphere, effecting a compositional harmony which Léger loved during his later years, see also La Femme au Chat, 1955 (G. Bauquier, Paris, 2013, no. 1635).
This transition towards natural forms became manifest predominantly in Léger’s figural imagery following the Second World War. Whilst he previously perceived man’s relationship with the machine as mutually beneficial, the destruction wrought by new technology had instilled in Léger a fear that man was rapidly losing his control over the machine, and that the only antidote to the machine’s eventual domination over man was his return to nature (I. Conzen-Meairs, Fernand Léger: The Later Years, London 1987, p. 15). It was this feeling that encouraged Léger to explore more life-embracing themes, among which being domestic leisure and, most famously, the circus in La Grande Parade, Léger’s ambitious mural masterpiece of 1954.
Despite his adoption of naturalism in his later œuvre, Léger was adamant that art should never retreat to the Neoclassical themes of the previous century. The theory of plasticity, he asserts in his writings, was a crucial development in escaping the static bounds of classical art. No motif, Léger insists boldly, should dominate an artwork’s composition, the notion of the ‘subject’ should be replaced entirely by the object. This was to be applied especially to the figure, who had become burdened over the centuries with anecdotal and sentimental connotations. The Femme à l’écharpe and her surroundings are dependent on one another to divulge their formal sublimity. The conscious contrasts in the outlines of form – made distinctive by carefully separated colours – offset a dynamism accentuated by further contrasts between liberal contours and controlled architectural parameters. Léger’s dealer Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler’s assessment of his figures as ‘veritable painted sculpture’ reflects the relief-like quality of the present work, which is further promoted by Léger’s trademark monumentality of the lone figure (D.-H. Kahnweiler, Fernand Léger, London 1950, p. 68).