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

Le Déjeuner

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Le Déjeuner
signed with initials and indistinctly dated 'F.L 1" (upper left)
watercolor, brush and India ink over pencil on paper
10 ¼ x 14 1/8 in. (26 x 36 cm.)
Painted in Spring 1921
Galerie de l'Effort Moderne (Léonce Rosenberg), Paris.
The Zwemmer Gallery, London (by 1936 and until circa 1960).
J.P.L. Fine Arts, London (by 1978).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 1 April 1987, lot 351.
Private collection, Switzerland; sale, Christie's, New York, 15 May 1997, lot 392.
Private collection, New York (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
E. Holding, "London Shows" in Axis, Spring 1936, no. 5, p. 27 (illustrated, p. 26).
London, J.P.L. Fine Arts, Fernand Léger: Drawings and Gouaches 1910-1953, March-April 1978, no. 5 (titled Femme attablée).
London, Annely Juda Fine Art, Abstraction 1910-40, July-September 1980, p. 49, no. 89 (illustrated; titled Femme attablée).
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Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

Fernand Léger painted this watercolor of contrasting pictorial elements during the spring of 1921; the subject as titled, as well as the imagery that comprises this work, identify it as one of the studies on paper he created in preparation for his pair of iconic, master statements of the modernist figure and interior style, completed later that year: Le petit déjeuner (Bauquier, no. 310; formerly in the Collection of Burton and Emily Hall Tremaine; sold, Christie’s New York, 5 November 1991, lot 10), and Le grand déjeuner (no. 311; The Museum of Modern Art, New York). “I never put my work directly on the canvas,” Léger stated. “I put my work together study by study, piece by piece, like an engine or a house” (quoted in J. Cassou and J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger Drawings and Gouaches, London, 1973, p. 48).
In 1920 Léger relented in his post-First World War preoccupation with industrial and machine-like imagery to return to the female figure and domestic interior settings. A commemorative exhibition of Renoir’s late paintings in the 1920 Salon d’Automne may have galvanized Léger’s interest in these themes; he debuted Le grand déjeuner exactly one year later at the same venue. The sleek, metallic volumes of the three nudes in his new painting—as mechanically inspired as their geometric setting—shocked the public.
The pencil drawings among the Déjeuner studies are firmly contoured and finely shaded to suggest volumes in space. The present watercolor instead emphasizes the flatness of superimposed figure and object forms that would ultimately characterize the two Déjeuner canvases and subsequent compositions. To this end, Léger practiced feats of pictorial legerdemain; instances of adroit sleight-of-hand puzzle and tantalize the eye. Having painted in grisaille the substantial shapes in this watercolor, as well as portions of form in shadow, Léger enhanced with color the tabletop and a decorative surface at rear right. Utilizing the whiteness of the sheet, he elsewhere left forms, objects, and surfaces unpainted, an effect that ostensibly suggests negative space, an absence or void, but actually represents key components in his imagery.
There are two women at leisure in this Déjeuner study. The figure seated at the circular table is partly defined by some shadow in her head and upper body, but primarily by the black robe draped over her shoulders. Only the dark fall of hair at far left outwardly indicates the presence of the second figure, reclining across the width of a sofa (behind the seated woman), with her legs drawn back at far right. Léger has indicated the corporeal presence of the two women as pure light, bright as the illumination that streams through the window behind them. Painted forms appear to advance, the unpainted areas recede—or, paradoxically, the reverse works just as well. The artist has tasked the viewer to decide how to visualize and complete the picture.

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