Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
THE EYE OF THE ARCHITECT: PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTIONThe disciplines of architecture and painting have been intimately intertwined throughout history, two independent strands of creative thought that have nevertheless remained bound to one another by a common interest in how people experience the world around them. When considered in conjunction with one another, they can achieve a synergistic relationship, one in which the experience and appreciation of both the painting and the space they occupy are enhanced by their connection. The following selection of works from the collection of an esteemed European architect has been assembled with this concern in mind, each work having been chosen for its ability to complement and enrich the spaces they inhabit. Born from a keen sense of social responsibility, this architect’s forward-thinking vision was rooted in the grand tradition of socially engaged housing, creating unique buildings that place the welfare of residents above the flaunting of architectural form. Allowing ample space for vegetation to grow over their balconies and transform apartment blocks into living, vertical gardens, the resulting homes are places of beauty and contentment, with proximity to water and greenery fulfilling basic human needs as well as affording countless environmental benefits. In these buildings, the architect offered hope for a way of urban living that did not suffocate the natural world, but rather embraces an organic conception of growth, renewal and sustainability. The architect’s inventiveness, imagination and eye for detail find clear parallels in the art collection he formed over the course of his collecting life, acquiring pieces by some of the most celebrated masters of the twentieth-century avant-garde, from Pablo Picasso to Francis Bacon, Giorgio de Chirico to Joan Miró, and Fernand Léger to Giorgio Morandi. One of the most striking features of this varied group is the way in which the collector has managed to create a sense of unity amongst the works, choosing pieces of a similarly intimate scale and thematic concern to generate a dynamic dialogue between each of the pieces when considered together. Focusing primarily on figurative compositions, this tightly curated group of works not only reveals the collector’s discerning eye and architectural mind, but also his passion for artists who continuously sought to push the boundaries of tradition in their art. Indeed, many of the works in the collection date from pivotal periods of transition in each artists’ career, as they began to explore new, ground breaking techniques, subject matter or styles in their compositions. There is also a strong emphasis on form and construction in each of the compositions, and a fascination with the architecturally-minded approach to structure that feeds these artists' aesthetic practices. There is a clear focus on Cubism and its later developments, for example, from the carefully composed still-lifes of Picasso, Juan Gris and Georges Braque, to the visionary machine aesthetic of Léger which expanded upon the traditions of the Cubist language and adapted them to his own unique style following the First World War. The automatic, fluid language of Miró’s brand of Surrealism, meanwhile, is contrasted with the metaphysical contemplations of De Chirico’s dreamlike scenarios and cityscapes, which share the pensive atmosphere of Morandi’s highly subtle, architectural, still lifes. A rare example of Picasso’s Surrealist-influenced series of figures, meanwhile, finds echoes in Bacon’s disintegration of the human form, as the features of his model, Henriette Moraes, dissolve into an array of rich, expressive strokes of paint. Offering an intriguing insight into some of the most dynamic and exciting periods of the European artistic avant-garde, these works stand as a testament to the collector’s keen connoisseurial eye and deep appreciation for the connection between modern art and architecture.
Fernand Léger (1881-1955)

La bouteille noire

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
La bouteille noire
signed and dated ‘F. LEGER 51’ (lower right); signed, dated and inscribed ‘F. LEGER. 51 LA BOUTEILLE NOIRE’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 21 1/4 in. (65 x 53.5 cm.)
Painted in 1951
Galerie Louis Carré, Paris.
Itoh Gallery, Tokyo.
Private collection, Paris.
Paul Haim, Paris.
Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva (no. 680).
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired from the above in 1974.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1994.
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné, vol. VIII, 1949-1951, Paris, 2003, no. 1426, p. 188 (illustrated p. 189).
Vienna, Galerie Würthle, Léger, Gromaire, Villon, Kupka, 1955, no. 22.

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

Rendered in Fernand Léger’s bold, post-war ‘mural’ style, La bouteille noire presents a group of still-life objects set against a boldly coloured background. Painted in 1951, this work dates from a period when the artist had embarked on an ambitious artistic program, working not just on the multi-figural, boldly coloured monumental-sized paintings, but also on large murals, stained-glass windows, mosaics, sculptures and ceramics. Alongside these commissions and large-scale projects, Léger also painted a number of easel-size paintings, such as the present work.

The objects that constitute this composition – an austere black bottle, accompanied by a red pitcher, white box, pieces of fruit and a strange, indefinable white contraption – are depicted with areas of flattened, bold primary colour outlined with thick black lines. Creating the semblance of space within the composition, this mode of pictorial construction encapsulates Léger’s late style: as he stated, ‘black and white [are] two absolutes between which I go my way… Later…black gave the required intensity and by relying on it I was able to prise out the colour: for instead of circumscribing it by contours I was able to place it freely outside them’ (Léger, quoted in P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven & London, 1983, p. 254). These elements appear within a recognisable, yet spatially ambiguous plane, merging with the ground into a single, unified space.

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