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

Nature morte

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Nature morte
signed and dated '38 F.LÉGER' (lower left); signed, dated and titled 'NATURE-MORTE F. LEGER-38' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28½ x 36¼ in. (72.5 x 92 cm.)
Painted in 1938
Anonymous sale, Galerie Motte, Geneva, 2 July 1971, lot 323.
Galerie Hervé Odermatt, Paris.
Collection Michel Lasfargues, Paris.
Anonymous sale, Champin-Lombrail-Gautier, Enghien, 21 November 1989, lot 31.
Private collection, Paris.
Galerie Beyeler, Basle.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, catalogue raisonné, vol. VI, 1938-1943, Paris, 1989, no. 1012, p. 63 (illustrated).
Caracas, Muséo de Arte Contemporanéo, Fernand Léger, October 1982, no. 49, p. 77 (illustrated).
Basle, Galerie Beyeler, Magic Blue, December 1993 - March 1994, no. 46, p. 28 (illustrated).
Basle, Galerie Beyeler, Fernand Léger, Werke 1925-1955, October 1994 - January 1995, no. 17, p. 33 (illustrated).
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Fernand Léger, July - September 2004, no. 35, p. 147 (illustrated).
Special notice
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Giovanna Bertazzoni
Giovanna Bertazzoni

Lot Essay

Fernand Léger painted Nature morte in 1938, at a time when he was looking to a range of developments in the world around him. With its bustling forms, many of which have a strong impression of the organic, with tendrils snaking across the composition and biomorphic shapes punctuating the picture surface, one can perhaps discern the influence of Surrealism, a movement with which Léger was never directly associated but amongst whose ranks he counted many of its members as his friends. At the same time, the sheer joy of creating a contrasting array of plastic forms depicted through the use of bright colours reflects Léger's interest in creating an art-form that would be transparent, accessible and enjoyable to more than the élite who formerly appeared to have a monopoly on culture. With this in mind, Léger had become involved in mural projects, seeing such inclusive, large-scale artworks as a means of bringing light, joy and colour to the world at large, especially now that, thanks to the progress made by the Front Populaire, the French political coalition with which he was associated and which was briefly in government during this period, the working classes had capped working hours and therefore more free time.

Léger turned away from the focus on single objects espoused, partly because of his experiences with film-making, and towards such effervescent compositions as Nature morte, which deliberately combined a range of contrasts between the textures of the various plastic forms depicted and their colours. In this way, he has used the Contraste de formes concept of his early works as a vehicle for a new type of painting, filled with life, movement and colour. The organic forms in Nature morte recall, albeit in a jazz-like writhing rather than any sinister way, the chimeras of Max Ernst's pictures; the structure resembles the architecture and furniture of the 1930s, with vestigial hints of the domestic landscape appearing here and there, especially in the form of the vessels on a brown table-like surface to the right of the composition. There is likewise an underwater feel, with the saturation of the blue throughout the picture, which recalls Léger's own statement from 1938 about his love of colour:

'On ocean voyages, while leaning on the boat's railing, confronted by the immense monotony of the water's surface, I have often thought how astonishing it would be if I suddenly spied a sea serpent, a hundred yards long, luminous and coloured.

'The world courts intensity. Speed is the contemporary law. It flows over us and dominates us; this is a transitional era; let us accept it as it is' (Léger, quoted in Functions of Painting, E.F. Fry, ed., London, 1973, p. 121).

During the latter part of 1938, Léger travelled to the United States where he undertook several commissions on various scales. There, he was once again entranced by the contrasts between colour and movement visible all around him in the landscape of modern America, which appeared to provide validity to the partially abstract paintings he had been creating in this idiom.

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