FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION OF WORKS ON PAPER
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)

Le Maçon ou Nature morte

FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
Le Maçon ou Nature morte
signed with the initials and dated 'FL 18' (lower right)
gouache, watercolour and pen and ink on paper
13 ¼ x 9 ½ in. (33.5 x 24.2 cm.)
Executed in 1918
Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris (no. 5771), by September 1927.
M. Morris, by whom acquired from the above on 15 May 1930.
Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris.
Douglas Cooper, Château de Castille, Avignon, by whom acquired from the above in May 1937.
Heinz Berggruen, Paris, by whom acquired from the above in October 1957.
Marianne Feilchenfeldt, Zurich, by whom acquired from the above in 1957.
Arthur Kauffmann, London, by whom acquired from the above in 1961, and thence by descent to the present owner.
Exh. cat., Douglas Cooper and the Masters of Cubism, Basel & London, 1987, p. 45 (illustrated in situ p. 12).
Exh. cat., D.M. Kosinski, Picasso, Braque, Gris, Léger, Douglas Cooper Collecting Cubism, Houston, 1990, p. 9 (illustrated in situ fig. 8).
Exh. cat., Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, New York, 2014, p. 271 (illustrated in situ).
J. Richardson, At Home, New York, 2019, p. 53 (illustrated in situ).
(Possibly) Paris, Galerie Jeanne Bucher-Myrbor, Fernand Léger, Gouaches et Dessins, April - May 1937 (no cat.).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Micol Flocchini
Micol Flocchini Head of Works on Paper Sale

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Dr Dorothy M. Kosinski, Walter Feilchenfeldt and Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger for their help in cataloguing this work.

'Contemporary life is the state of war - that's why I profoundly admire my epoch. It is hard and sharp, but with its immense senses it sees clearly and always wants to see more clearly, whatever may happen. It is the end of obscurity, of chiaroscuro, and the beginning of the state of enlightenment. Too bad for those with weak eyes. The nebulous, the composition of nuances is about to perish, and painters too must go through some change' (F. Léger, Functions of Painting, ed. E.F. Fry, London, 1973, p. 65).

It speaks much for Léger's resolve as an artist, and the fortitude and resilience of his personality, that he did not let the horror of his First World War experiences divert him from the path he had taken before 1914, and he remained committed to employing modern and mechanistic elements to pictorial ends. Léger viewed the war as irrefutable proof that society had broken with old values and that he must bear witness to the advent of a new modern reality. He later recounted to his dealer Léonce Rosenberg, 'Three years without touching a paintbrush but in contact with reality at its most violent, its most crude, the war made me mature, I'm not afraid to say so' (quoted in C. Green, op. cit., p. 96). In late 1917, when he finally resumed painting, Léger was poised to counter the detached classicism of the wartime Paris avant-garde with his own message of new and entirely modern subject matter, in which he wholeheartedly engaged the world around him, shunning all ambivalence, alienation and resignation. His dissonant, fragmented and dynamic pictorial language, presented without apology or historical sugar-coating, was consistent with his modern subjects, and was proof of the full measure of his commitment. 'For most French artists the war was a disruptive experience. Not so for Léger; indeed no other artist of his generation was to extract such positive conclusions from its squalor and horror. These years, when he was living and working with ordinary, working-class men, laid the foundations for his subsequent political commitment; and when he came to condemn much of pre-war work as being too abstract, he meant almost certainly that it was lacking in social content' (J. Golding, op. cit., p. 10).

Léger's interest in the figure, even if expressed in partly mechanical forms and barely distinguishable from the architecture of its surroundings, remained central to his vision of modern life. Moreover, while Picasso was growing increasingly preoccupied with the exclusive upper class milieu that dominated the theatrical world in which he now spent much of his time, Léger continued to cultivate an egalitarian and inclusive social outlook. He enjoyed the vitality and diversity of the modern city, which he felt embodied a ringing affirmation of the life-force that was the ultimate antidote to the destruction and negativity of the war years.

The primary impetus for Léger's 1918 paintings, however, were contemporary developments in the avant-garde and were in fact literary in origin. Léger was interested in the concept of simultaneity, the presentation of multiple and often disparate layers of information, in which time and place were rendered discontinuous, in order to represent the experience of modern urban life. The idea had been expounded in the use of multiple points of view in the cubism of the Puteaux "Section d'Or" group before the war. The concept was revived with the publication of Apollinaire's Calligrammes, his final collection of poems, shortly before his death in 1918, and more significantly for Léger, the publication of poems and prose by his close friend Cendrars, including his war reminisences, J'ai Tué, 1918, for which Léger provided illustrations. Cendrars was also involved in the cinema, and had assisted the film director Abel Gance. He explained to Léger the procedures involved in editing films, including the abrupt cutting of visual sequences and the use of the close-ups.

This work is first recorded in the inventory of the Parisian avant-garde gallerist Jeanne Bucher in 1927. She sold it to a yet unidentified 'M. Morris' in May 1930, who potentially could be the American Cubist artist George L.K. Morris. It was back with Bucher in 1937, when the great patron and scholar of Cubist art, Douglas Cooper, acquired it from her in May the same year, seemingly in connection with an exhibition of Léger's works on paper at the gallery.

Cooper amassed one of the largest post-World War I collections of Cubist art, second only to G.F. Reber. He experienced Fernand Léger's paintings for the first time at the Galerie Paul Rosenberg in 1930, and it was this fateful encounter that sparked a lifelong appreciation for the artist's work. From those early years until the 1950s, Cooper amassed a comprehensive collection with superb examples from all important periods of Léger's oeuvre. The artist was a frequent guest at Cooper's Château de Castille where the present work could be seen hanging in two installation shots. Léger was also the first to visit after Cooper finished comprehensive renovations of the building, and in 1954, towards the end of their long engagement together, Cooper commissioned a mural for the stairwell, The Trapeze Artist, which is currently located at the National Gallery of Australia.

Douglas Cooper was close with the influential dealer Heinz Berggruen, and in October 1957 he exchanged the present work for an Éléments Mécaniques by Léger with him. It was subsequently sold to Marianne Feilchenfeldt, who in turn sold it to a friend of hers, the London art dealer Arthur Kauffmann, and it has descended in his family until this day.

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