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Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
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Fernand Léger (1881-1955)

La femme couchée

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
La femme couchée
signed and dated 'F.Léger.20' (lower right); signed, titled and dated 'La femme couchée Ie etat F. Léger 20' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
20 x 25¾ in. (50.8 x 65.4 cm.)
Painted in 1920
Galerie Simon (D.H. Kahnweiler), Paris.
Bucholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (no. 3124), by 1957.
Mr and Mrs Oscar Kolin, New York, by whom acquired from the above in 1971.
Pace Wildenstein, New York.
Acquired from the above by the previous owner.
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. II, Paris, 1992, p. 86, no. 242 (illustrated).
New York, Museum of Modern Art (on loan from Bucholz Gallery, 1949, no. 49.1856).
New York, Sidney Gallery, Fernand Léger: Major Themes, January - February 1957, no. 14.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Sixth Exhibition of Paintings by Fernand Léger, Selected from the years 1918-1954, December 1960 - January 1961 (illustrated pl. 33.36).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, L'Esprit Nouveau: Purism in Paris, 1918-1925, April - August 2001, p. 174 (illustrated in colour).
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Lot Essay

Painted in 1920, La femme couchée combines the classic theme of the reclining woman with the cutting edge visual style of Léger's Rappel à l'ordre. This was the first in a series of pictures in which Léger depicted the woman against a contrasting ordered mosaic of squares and lines. This figure would reappear in various guises during the following years as a solitary figure in other paintings of the same title, and also in pictures of larger groups, for instance those in the Dallas Museum of Art, the Scottish National Gallery and the Winterthur Kunstmuseum.

In the wake of the First World War, Léger, who had witnessed first-hand the horrors of the conflict, explored various manifestations of this 'ordre', beginning with images fuelled with a machine-like aesthetic. But in 1920, the year that La femme couchée was painted, Léger came under the influence of Purism, and became involved in L'Esprit Nouveau with Ozenfant and Le Corbusier. This Purism had already infused the works of Picasso and Gris, and so now its tranquillity came to replace the hectic, mechanical components in Léger's painting. In La femme couchée, the woman is depicted using a deft economy of colour, constructed from sheen-like, metallic forms against the backdrop of flat fields of colour. More than the flat, post-Cubistic forms of the Purists, though, this background owes much to the influence of the De Stijl artists, especially Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, whose paintings Léger had seen in Rosenberg's gallery during the same year. In La femme couchée, the extent to which Léger adopted their aesthetics while ignoring their ideology can be seen in the intense visual purity that breathes through the composition, thrusting the classical reclining figure into the fore.

It is a tribute to this happy marriage of styles in La femme couchée that this picture has passed through the hands of several of the most respected and visionary dealers of the Twentieth Century, having been owned by the legendary Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Valentin, and Sidney Janis, who was instrumental in introducing avant garde art to the Post-War American market, not least De Stijl. The fact La femme couchée has also adorned the walls of both MOMA and LACMA confirms its importance.


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