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

Nature morte au buste (Définitif)

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Nature morte au buste (Définitif)
signed 'F.LÉGER' (lower right); signed again, dated and titled 'F.LÉGER 24 NATURE-MORTE' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
25 ½ x 19 5/8 in. (65 x 50.3 cm.)
Painted in 1924
Galerie de L'Effort moderne (Léonce Rosenberg), Paris.
Douglas Cooper, London and Argilliers (by December 1937).
William A. McCarty-Cooper, London and Los Angeles (by descent from the above).
John McCarty, Miami (by descent from the above); sale, Christie’s, London, 9 February 2011, lot 26.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
D. Cooper, Fernand Léger et le nouvel espace, Geneva, 1949, p. 100 (illustrated).
C. Zervos, Fernand Léger: Oeuvres de 1905 à 1952, Paris, 1952, p. 94 (illustrated, p. 56).
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1920-1924, Paris, 1992, p. 318, no. 382 (illustrated, p. 319).
J.S. Boggs, Picasso and Things, Cleveland, 1992, p. 18 (illustrated, fig. 5).
London, Roland, Browse and Delbanco, Currents of Post-Impressionism in France and England, July 1946, p. 3, no. 8.
Birmingham, City Art Museum, French Art, October-November 1947.
London, National Gallery of Art and Leeds, City Art Gallery, Fernand Léger: An Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, Lithographs and Book Illustrations, February-April 1950, no. 25 (illustrated, pl. 8) and no. 21 respectively.
Lowestoft Art Centre, Exhibition of Contemporary Paintings from the Private Collection of Douglas Cooper, January 1951.
Saint-Etienne, Musée d'Art et d'Industrie, Natures mortes de Géricault à nos jours, April-May 1955, pp. 21 and 32, no. 57 (illustrated, fig. 42).
Marseilles, Musée Cantini, Fernand Léger, June-August 1966, no. 37 (illustrated).
Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Picasso, Braque, Gris, Léger: Douglas Cooper Collecting Cubism, October 1990-April 1991, pp. 14, 52 and 61, no. 38 (illustrated in color, p. 18, no. 15).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

During the early 1920s Léger responded to the rappel à lordre, the “call to order,” a return to the classical ideal of humanism in French culture, which the Paris avant-garde had adopted in response to the trauma of the First World War. Léger turned away from the brashly dynamic, mechanical manner of his earlier work, and his paintings assumed a calmer, more balanced, and consciously classical aspect.
Nature morte au buste, painted in 1924, is a perfect case in point. Remaining steadfast to his basic principle of seeking contrasts in forms, Léger gathered on the table in this still-life composition a Roman-style bust, an antique goblet and scrolled paper–artifacts of an older civilization steeped in classicism–and juxtaposed them with a protractor and other drafting instruments, which represent the geometrical and mathematical orientation in modern art, architecture and design.
In his treatment of these objects and their environment, Léger employed the ideals of formal clarity and order that Le Corbusier and Ozenfant promulgated in their theories on Purism–LEsprit nouveau–together with the disciplined balance of fundamental pictorial elements in Mondrian’s most recent De Stijl paintings, which Léonce Rosenberg exhibited at his Galerie de l’Effort Moderne in 1923. Léger believed that he, too, should strive in his art for the transcendent order and permanence inherent in the classical sensibility and humanistic ideals that had guided the great and enduring art of the past.
In a 1924 Léger published in Rosenberg’s Bulletin de lEffort Moderne an article in which he advocated “A society without frenzy, calm, ordered, knowing how to live naturally within the Beautiful without exclamation or romanticism. That is where we are going, very simply. It is a religion like any other. I think it is useful and beautiful” (E. Fry, ed., Fernand Léger: Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, p. 47)
Léger decried the tradition in all Western art since the Renaissance of adhering to a fundamentally unified conception within the composition based on the idea of the subject. He discarded this conventional approach in his painting, and focused instead on the visual character of individual objects. “The subject in painting had already been destroyed,” the artist wrote. “I thought that the object, which had been neglected and poorly exploited, was the thing to replace the subject” (quoted in J. Cassou and J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger Drawings and Gouaches, New York, 1973, p. 87).
Léger was drawn to the beauty of the manufactured object, from large airplane engines to everyday house wares, including the consumer goods that filled the elaborate window displays in boulevard shops and department stores. By adapting the technique of the cinematic close-up to his studio practice, Léger discovered the means of imparting true monumentality to the most common object.
Nature morte au buste was for many years in the collection of Douglas Cooper (1911-1984), the pioneering authority on Cubism and a leading historian of the movement, who was a friend to many of the artists he wrote about, especially Picasso, Braque and Léger. He avidly acquired their art whenever the opportunity arose. Cooper’s Gris collection was among the most extensive in existence; he compiled the artist’s catalogue raisonné, recently re-published. In 1970 he curated the landmark exhibition The Cubist Epoch, the catalogue for which remains an invaluable introduction and reference guide to this movement and its artists.

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