Audio: Fernand Leger, Nature morte à l'oiseau
Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
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Fernand Leger (1881-1955)

Nature morte à l'oiseau

Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
Nature morte à l'oiseau
signed and dated 'F. LEGER 51' (lower right); signed and dated again and titled 'F. LEGER 1951. NATURE-MORTE a l'oiseau-' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
25½ x 36¼ in. (64.8 x 92 cm.)
Painted in 1951
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
André Lefèvre, Paris; sale, Palais Galliera, Paris, 29 November 1966, lot 92.
Perls Galleries, New York.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
Weintraub Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, June 1985.
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné 1949-1951, Paris, 2003, vol. VIII, p. 212, no. 1443 (illustrated in color, p. 213).
Kunsthalle Bern, Fernand Léger, April-May 1952, no. 96.
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Collection André Lefèvre, March-April 1964, p. 29, no. 165.
New York, Perls Galleries, Fernand Léger, Oil Paintings, November-December 1968, no. 30 (illustrated).
Staatliche Kunsthalle Berlin, Fernand Léger, October 1980-January 1981, p. 609, no. 126 (illustrated in color, p. 520).
Paris, Grand Palais and New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Fernand Léger, October 1984-January 1985, p. 48, no. 41 (illustrated, p. 34).
Sale room notice
Please note this lot will be offered during the Morning Session on 6 November, immediately following the Works on Paper Sale commencing at 10:00 am.

Lot Essay

Fernand Léger, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso were all born within a year of each other, they each had their beginnings as modernists in Cubism, and they all painted prolifically to the end of lengthy careers. Léger holds the special distinction among them of having executed one of his greatest and largest canvases near the end of his life in 1954, the état définitif of La Grande Parade (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York). Far from slowing down, Léger appears to have grown ever more eager to engage in diverse projects as he crossed his seventieth year. He commanded a small army of studio assistants, artisans and craftsmen, to help him create ceramics, large sculptures, mosaics and stained-glass windows.

Remarkably, Léger found time to paint numerous easel-sized paintings as well, some of which are directly related to his larger compositions. There are also independent figures, abstract pictures that were perhaps intended to become murals, and most numerous of all, still-life paintings, such as the present work, which were done in the time-honored tradition of the French nature morte.

Léger's post-war pictures usually display one of two formal approaches, and often he treated a subject twice, first in one and then in the other manner. One approach was to define the figure or object using black contours, which like a vessel contain local color that may have been derived from the actual object or arbitrarily selected for pictorial purposes. Léger painted Nature morte à l'oiseau in his alternative approach, retaining the black contours and even strengthening them, while discarding all local color. The imagery is consequently flatter, the design more graphic and reductive, having been rendered entirely as black outlines on a gray and black ground which has been partly covered with bands and patches of pure color. The effect is essentially architectural; Léger likened this type of painting to the flatness of a wall, broken up with color to create a livelier surface.

In the present painting, Léger sought to create the effect of light and depth through modeling by smartly juxtaposing flat shapes of contrasting form and color. The curved forms of the dove, vase and fruit stand out against the stiff vertical lines that surround them, creating both a sense of depth and movement. To Senator Lautenberg, the dove in the Nature morte l'oiseau was a potent symbol of peace. He authored significant gun control legislation and was a strong advocate --both in the Senate and within the Jewish community--for Israeli-Palestinian peace and for U.S. leadership to achieve it. To Léger however, the objects depicted in the composition existed primarily for their plastic qualities and potential, while their everyday function or meaning is 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 primary colors separated by thick black outlines, create the semblance of space within the composition. In 1938 Léger asserted that, "Color can enter into play with a surprising and active force without any need to incorporate instructive or sentimental elements. A wall can be destroyed by the application of pure colors... A wall can be made to advance or recede, to become visually mobile. All this with color" (quoted in E.F. Fry, ed., Fernand Léger, Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, p. 123). Léger's late "mural" style represents the ultimate evolution of the basic principles of painting that he set forth in his celebrated Contrastes de formes series of 1913-1914, "the simultaneous ordering of three plastic components: Lines, Forms and Colors" (quoted in ibid., p. 4).

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