FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
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FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
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FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)

Le vase vert

FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
Le vase vert
signed 'F. LEGER' (lower right); signed again, dated and titled 'F LEGER 47 LE VASE VERT ' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 25 5/8 in. (92 x 65.2 cm.)
Painted in 1947
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (by 1952).
Paul Haim, Paris.
Galerie Louis Carré et Cie., Paris.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 11 November 1987, lot 89.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, 1944-1948, Paris, 2000, p. 152, no. 1247 (illustrated, p. 153; with incorrect cataloguing).
Copenhagen, Kunstforeningen, Fernand Léger Udstilling, January-February 1951, no. 25.
Sao Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna, I Bienal, October-December 1951, p. 59, no. 87.
Santiago, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Segunda exposición de plástica francesa contemporánea, June-July 1952, p. 36, no. 70.
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Fernand Léger: Paintings, Drawings, Lithographs, Ceramics, December 1954-January 1955, p. 15, no. 26.
Tokyo, Fuji Television Gallery, Fernand Léger, March 1972, no. 5 (illustrated).
Geneva, Musée de l’Athénée, Léger-Vasarely, July-October 1979, no. 1 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Painted in 1947, Le vase vert exemplifies Leger’s late production, as he turned his attention to the expressive potential of color, all the while devoting himself to a populist aesthetic. After five years of wartime exile, Léger returned to France in December of 1945, delighted to be home, and soon thereafter embarked on a crowning series of large murals, culminating in La grande parade, 1954. Engaging in an increasingly diverse range of projects, within a few years he commanded a small army of studio assistants, artisans and craftsmen, to help him create ceramics, large sculptures, mosaics and stained-glass windows. He directed his own school, the Atelier Fernand Léger on the boulevard Clichy, where he had as many as a hundred students at a time. The reputation he had established in New York during the war encouraged many young Americans artists, including Sam Francis, Richard Stankiewicz, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, to seek him out and enroll in his classes under the G.I. Bill.
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 intended as ideas for murals and still-life paintings in the time-honored French tradition of Chardin. The present spirited, colorful and pulsing still life of 1947 carries forward, in Léger's more freely composed and organic post-war style, the precedents of the great nature morte compositions he had done during the 1920s. Still-life objects similarly dominate the eight magnificent paintings of Braque's Atelier series done between 1949 and 1955, suggesting that for both men the nature morte–the painting of familiar objects in the studio environment–was the essential vehicle for contemplating the painter's craft at this late stage in each of their careers.
The vibrant jostles of forms in Leger’s still-lifes of this period–with contrasts between subtly modelled nature morte objects and brightly hued undulating abstract elements–testify to not only Léger's concern with line and form, but significantly with color. "Colour is a human need like water and fire," he explained in 1946. "It is a raw material indispensable to life. In every period of his existence and history, man has associated it with his joys, his acts, and pleasures" (quoted in E.F. Fry, ed., Fernand Léger, Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, p. 149).
In Le vase vert, compositional elements are bound together in a complex and large-scale canvas on a single, flattened but spatially ambiguous plane. Objects and the ground merge into a single, unified space. The irregular and twisting borders of the composition moreover appear to negate the rectangular format of the canvas. The artist thereafter employed this means of enmeshing object with ground to guide the composition of his relief sculptures in bronze and painted ceramic.
It is color that lends this work its sense of depth, despite the sparse conventional modeling. Bright colors separated by thick black outlines, create the semblance of space within the composition, pushing and pulling the various elements to the foreground. Ten years before painting the present work Léger asserted that, "Colour 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 colours... A wall can be made to advance or recede, to become visually mobile. All this with colour" (quoted in ibid., 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 Colours" (quoted in ibid., p. 4).

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