Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF VERONIQUE AND GREGORY PECK My parents acquired Les deux figures from Bill Beadleston in 1984. They were looking for a painting that would complement the rest of their collection, would have "wall power," and would resonate for them personally. My father often talked about the tenderness between the two massive figures. Maybe he was seeing himself and his love for Veronique in it. I know that whoever lives with this extraordinary painting next will project their own feelings onto it. I hope they know that Gregory and Veronique Peck loved the painting very much and saw themselves in that tender embrace. For me, Les deux figures will always tell the story of the abiding love between my parents. --Cecilia Peck Voll Veronique and Gregory Peck were the very embodiment of Hollywood's Golden Age: talented, stylish, and exceedingly generous, they touched the lives of all who knew them and the millions who watched Mr. Peck on the silver screen. The actor forged a legendary career as an honest hero, the American everyman the New York Times labeled "the embodiment of decency." Peck worked his way from the stages of the University of California to the pinnacle of Hollywood stardom, defying the brash swagger of the typical film hero for a persona that was passionate, authentic, and all his own. From Roman Holiday (1953) to Moby Dick (1956) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Peck's performances remain unforgettable; and his legacy, alongside his wife Veronique, as an impassioned and unspoken supporter of charitable causes left an indelible mark on American society. By the early 1950s, Gregory Peck was known throughout the world as the man who garnered four Academy Award nominations in his first five years in film. A new kind of Hollywood leading man--strong but compassionate, brave but human--Peck first met reporter Veronique Passani at an interview in 1953. When the actor returned to Europe to film Roman Holiday, he surprised Passani with an invitation to lunch, and a meal on Paris's Left Bank heralded the beginning of a lifelong romance. If a marriage could ever be considered a partnership, it was certainly so with the Pecks. As Mr. Peck filmed across the globe, his wife was always on hand for creative guidance and to run lines. When the producer Alan J. Pakula offered the actor the lead in an adaptation of a Southern writer's debut novel, Peck requested two copies of the work so his wife could also judge the project's merits. The role was lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's American classic for which Gregory Peck will remain best remembered. "What you saw on screen with Greg was what you saw off screen," the couple's publicist Monroe Friedman remembered. "The same could be said of [Veronique]." The Pecks were unwavering and dedicated philanthropists. As Chairman of the American Cancer Society, Mr. Peck toured the country with his wife at his side, raising $50 million for the organization. Favorite causes included the Inner City Repertory Theater of Los Angeles; the La Jolla Playhouse; the film department at University College, Dublin; the Los Angeles Music Center; and, as a lasting legacy in the actor's name, the Gregory Peck Reading Series at the Los Angeles Public Library. Mr. Peck held numerous leadership positions, including Founding Chairman of the American Film Institute, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Chairman of the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund, and Chairman of the National Council on the Arts. In recognition of Veronique Peck's philanthropy, the Los Angeles Times named her "Woman of the Year" in 1967, and in 2009 she was awarded the Light of Learning Award from the Los Angeles Library Foundation. Mrs. Peck watched as her husband won the Academy Award for Best Actor in To Kill a Mockingbird, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the nation's highest civilian honor), and numerous lifetime achievement awards. "Gregory Peck was a beautiful man," Harper Lee remarked upon the actor's death. "Atticus Finch gave him the opportunity to play himself." No one was more infatuated with Mr. Peck than his wife Veronique, and vice versa: "You never saw two people more delighted with each other," Friedman said. Indeed, they stood together as legends of American society for nearly half a century. PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF VERONIQUE AND GREGORY PECK
Fernand Leger (1881-1955)

Les deux figures

Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
Les deux figures
signed and dated 'F. LEGER. 29' (lower right); signed and dated again, titled and inscribed 'F. LEGER. 29/Les deux figures/Definitif.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
36 3/8 x 28 7/8 in. (92.1 x 73.3 cm.)
Painted in 1929
Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York (acquired from the above).
E.V. Thaw & Co., Inc., New York (1960).
Burt Kleiner, Beverly Hills.
Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills.
Galerie Tarica, Paris.
Galerie Kaplan, London.
Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York.
Martin Sanders, New York (circa 1973).
Anon. sale, Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern, 19 June 1980, lot 784.
William Beadleston, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, 1984.
"Hommage à Fernand Léger" in Derrière le Miroir, nos. 79-80-81, October-November-December 1955, p. 6 (illustrated in color).
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1929-1931, Paris, 1995, vol. IV, p. 112, no. 668 (illustrated in color, p. 113).
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Hommage à Fernand Léger: peintures de 1920 à 1930, October-December 1955, no. 9 (illustrated).
Jerusalem, Israel Museum, 1978-1979 (on extended loan).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Léger's quintessential works of the 1920s are the magisterial still-life compositions he painted during the middle years of that decade (see lot 9); these pictures manifest the classical qualities of clarity, balance and order which were then in vogue but are also decidedly modern in their content. But as the decade drew to a close, the spirit of classicism was on the wane, yielding to the widening impact of surrealism, whose precepts urged artists to delve beneath the external order of civilization to probe the darkly vital, organic forces that acted inexorably on the processes of the inner mind. Always attentive to the most current ideas in circulation, Léger began to remove the hard classical shell in which he encased his art to explore the softer, more pliable and sensual forms found in nature and in the human body, especially the female figure, which now became a frequent and significant presence in his work.

Maintaining the sense of up-close immediacy that he liked to project in the still-lifes, Léger in his new figure compositions often filled the canvas almost to the edge with the feminine form or visage, or the images of two or even three women, seen in full or part length. The present Les deux figures gives the impression of having been casually posed, as if captured in a snapshot. During his classical period, Léger would have insisted on using a geometrical grid of horizontal and vertical elements to structure the objects within a composition, but by this time he had dismantled and removed from his work all evidence of a supporting architecture, and instead he here allows the simplified, relaxed contours of the two women, whose forms are essentially flat albeit with some shallow modeling, to stand in relief against a blossoming floral aureole set within an indeterminate golden space.

Compared to the formal art of his classical phase, Léger has created in Les deux figures an altogether more relaxed and informal brand of modern portraiture; he had now made it his purpose to create appealing and accessible pictures, whose content might appear new and unusual, but was actually very readable and should be directly communicative. Paintings of this kind, he believed, would constitute the new basis for a genuinely popular art. Within a few years Léger's leftist politics would bring him into alignment with the agenda of the Front Populaire and the government of Léon Blum, and he was excited at the prospect that he and fellow artists might finally, as he declared, "create and realize a new collective social art; we are merely awaiting for social evolution to permit it. Free the masses of people, give them the possibility of thinking of seeing, of self-cultivation--that is all we ask; they will then be in a position to enjoy to the utmost the plastic novelties that modern art has to offer" (E.F. Fry, ed., Fernand Léger: The Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, pp. 115 and 116).

During the mid-1920s Léger had directed his efforts at exalting the integrity of ordinary, everyday objects and elevating them to monumental status in his paintings. He wanted to break what he felt was the tyranny of the subject as it had existed in the art of painting since the Renaissance. The subject was obsolete in modern painting, he argued, and it was time to emphasize the presence and character of the individual object, not as a means to an end--as in the traditional subject--but as the end itself. Now it was time to accomplish the same for the figure, releasing it from all the superfluous, extra-visual connotations that have accrued to it over the centuries, so the human body might finally be seen in all its inherent beauty as purely plastic form. To accomplish his liberation of the figure, Léger had in mind what he called the creation of the "grand subject." By this term he was not suggesting a return to conventional subject painting; it was instead his aim to paint monumental compositions that would treat the figure and object as pictorial equals. "I am taking up a grand subject," Léger declared, "but my painting is still object-painting. My figures continue to grow more human but I keep to the plastic fact, no eloquence, no romanticism" (quoted in C. Lanchner, Fernand Léger, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 227).

Léger would indeed make it his rule to "keep to the plastic fact," for he reasoned that "as long as the human body is considered a sentimental or expressive value in painting, no new evolution in pictures of people will be possible. Its development has been hindered by the domination of the subject through the centuries... In contemporary painting the object must become the leading character and dethrone the subject. Then, in turn, if the person, the face, and the human body will become objects, the modern artist will be offered considerable freedom. At this moment, it is possible for him to use the law of contrasts, which is the constructive law, with all its breadth" (quoted in E.F. Fry, op. cit., p. 132).

The single female figure usually appears in Léger's paintings only in a context where he has juxtaposed it with other sufficiently weighty objects that enable him to create a dynamic composition of inter-active contrasts (Bauquier, no. 528; fig. 1). He was more often inclined to depict pairs of women, as seen here, or even three figures arranged in a close grouping, which allowed him to generate multiple contrasts of form and character among the figures themselves. In respect to Léger's prescription for projecting contrasts of all kinds in his painting, the two women in the present painting are most remarkable for one obvious fact: one is white, the other is a woman of color. Each embraces the other, and they actually appear to merge, as if they were two sides of a single figure. This is the first appearance of a dark-skinned woman, presumably of Mediterranean or North African descent, in Léger's paintings, and an extremely rare example of a racially mixed figure subject in any modern work of art between the two World Wars.

African Americans had lived and worked in France since the early 1800s. Tens of thousands of free blacks emigrated to France, most settling in Paris, from Louisiana during the decades following Napoleon's sale of the territory to the United States in 1803. Around 200,000 black American soldiers in the U.S. Army served in France during the First World War, ninety percent of whom were from the American South. Praised and often decorated for their service in the defense of their host country, many elected to remain in France to avoid returning to the racial bias and constrictive laws under which they had suffered in their homeland. During the 1920s le jazz nègre from America became all the rage in Paris night clubs; black American musicians were able to establish flourishing careers in Montmartre and Montparnasse that were not yet possible in America. The singer and dancer Josephine Baker, the "Bronze Venus" of La Revue nègre, garnered international fame as the most famous African American woman living and performing in France. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Bessie Smith made their Paris debuts in 1927-1928 to wide acclaim. The "Black Birds," a troupe based on the original Revue nègre, packed the house nightly at the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre. Langston Hughes and other writers of the Harlem Renaissance found Paris to be a congenial and stimulating city in which to live and write.

There were also about 5,000 people of African descent living in France, many of whom were recent arrivals from that nation's overseas colonies, mostly from Morocco, Algeria and islands in the Caribbean. In contrast to the favorable conditions usually accorded to African Americans, no such welcome had been extended to the French colonial blacks, who were mostly single men who worked at low-paying factory jobs and were sadly unable to start families in their adopted land. There was strong support, even on the French left, for La France aux français, a movement that pre-figured present-day attempts to stem foreign immigration into Western Europe. In 1931, these workers were made subject to higher taxes than French citizens. Léger was a strong advocate of leftist causes, but one may assume that he favored more tolerant and progressive policies towards the non-white, non-native population in France. Among the four figures in his monumental masterwork of the 1930s, Composition aux deux perroquets (Bauquier, no. 881; fig. 4), two are women of color. Their presence in this "grand subject" stems in part from the still operative conventions of orientalism in French painting, but must also originate in the artist's own strongly progressive viewpoint on many social issues.

In addition to proposing an ideal of inter-racial harmony, these two young women represent a contemporary, universalized embodiment of female vegetation and fertility myths drawn from humankind's deepest past. "It is the great order of antiquity that I wish to see reappear," Léger declared (quoted in Y. Brunhammer, Fernand Léger: The Monumental Art, Paris, 2005, p. 147). The image of woman as a modern incarnation of a classical Demeter or Flora emerged as a recent development in Léger's art, and was instrumental in his campaign to establish "the grand subject" in modern painting.

From easel-sized dual portraits such as Les deux figures, Léger went on to paint his multi-figure compositions in ever larger dimensions (Bauquier, no. 817; fig. 2), culminating with two landmark paintings he completed in 1939, Adam et Eve (Bauquier, no. 880; fig. 3), and the aforementioned Composition aux deux perroquets (fig. 4). In these paintings Léger achieved his aim of creating the "grand subject," while laying the groundwork for his late style and the ultimate achievement of his final years, the mural La grande parade, 1954 (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York).

(fig. 1) Fernand Léger, Femme tenant un vase, 1927. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. BARCODE: 25667332-PALE

(fig. 2) Fernand Léger, Composition aux trois figures, 1932. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. BARCODE 29176076

(fig. 3) Fernand Léger, Adam et Eve, 1935-1939. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. BARCODE 26015972

(fig. 4) Fernand Léger, Composition aux deux perroquets, 1926. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. BARCODE 26025989

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