FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
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FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
4 More
FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)

La plante jaune

FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
La plante jaune
signed and dated 'F. LÉGER. 37' (lower right)
oil on canvas
28 5/8 x 36 ¼ in. (72.7 x 92.2 cm.)
Painted in 1937
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
(possibly) Sven Salén, Stockholm.
Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm (by 1961).
Galerie Bonnier, Geneva (acquired from the above, March 1966).
Galerie Internazionale, Milan (acquired from the above, June 1974).
Galerie Motte, Geneva (by 1974); sale, Hôtel Saint-Moritz, Geneva, 13 February 1976, lot 29.
Galería Theo, Madrid.
Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 12 May 1987, lot 52.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
P. Nelson, "Peinture spaciale et architecture à propos des dernières oeuvres de Léger" in Cahier d'Art, 1937, nos. 1-3, p. 84 (illustrated; titled Composition).
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1932-1937, Paris, 1996, vol. V, p. 228, no. 931 (illustrated in color, p. 229).
Paris, Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Exposition d'oeuvres de Léger, February 1937, no. 34.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Fernand Léger, May-June 1938, no. 56.
Stockholm, Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, Fernand Léger, March 1961, no. 3.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Fernand Léger, October-November 1964, no. 57.
Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle, Fernand Léger, December 1969-February 1970, p.23, no. 73.
Geneva, Galerie Motte and Paris, Galerie 22, F. Léger, September-October 1974, p. 24, no. 18 (illustrated in color).
Geneva, Musée de l'Athénée, Léger-Vasarely, July-October 1979, no. 6 (illustrated).
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Fernand Léger: A Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of The New York Hospital Auxiliary, October-December 1987, p. 66, no. 41 (illustrated in color).
Naussau County Museum of Art, Léger, January-March 1999, p. 61 (illustrated in color, p. 16).

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Lot Essay

Fernand Léger’s still lifes are a testament to the Modernist conception of everyday objects as principal aesthetic subjects, and the genre’s role in the democratization of art. Through a process of stylized isolation, plants, pipes, and comportiers became central to artistic experimentation. Broken down and reconstructed by Cubism, animated and subverted by Surrealism, material affects stood in as signifiers for human experiences or ideas absent from the picture plane.
For Léger in particular, compositions such as La plante jaune were also analogies for his belief in equality between all forms: organic and mechanical, representational and abstract, working class and bourgeois. His oscillation between the micro and macroscopic stemmed from a desire to show objects alongside the parts they are made of: "The plastic life, the picture, is made up of harmonious relationships among volumes, lines and colors. These are the three forces that must govern works of art. If, in organizing these three essential elements harmoniously, one finds that objects, elements of reality, can enter into the composition, it may be better and may give the work more richness. But they must be subordinated to the three essential elements mentioned above... Sometimes these relationships are merely decorative when they are abstract. But if objects figure in the composition—free objects with a genuine plastic value—pictures result that have as much variety and profundity as any with an imitative subject" (quoted in E.F. Fry, ed., Fernand Léger: Functions of Paintings, New York, 1973, pp. 155, 168 and 169).
This search for equilibrium is successfully achieved in the present work. The 1930s were a time during which the artist was stepping away from the rigidity of his earlier experimentations in Tubism toward softer lines and greater open space. Here, as in Composition à l’aloès no. 4 (Bauquier, vol. V, no. 857), Léger divides the composition into three elements, the eponymous yellow plant at left, a red and white abstraction at center, and a ladder-like structure standing against a black oval at right. Although distinct, these parts all echo each other against the solid block of blues in the background. Cleverly, a green vine escapes from its yellow origin and reaches toward the right, linking the representational to the abstract. Painted with a focus on shading and volume, the work itself is in movement, and has an aquatic quality which again places it in both natural and abstracted, purely aesthetic, worlds.
Early on in his career, Léger had coined the notion of “objet-spéctacle” which applies here: the artist stages the object like he would a performer, giving it the leading role as opposed to a supporting one. Perhaps the clearest example of this had been his 1924 experimental film the Ballet Mécanique, in which close-ups of bolts and hammers performing rhythmic pirouettes in the assembly line were followed by shots of legs or a woman’s smile taunting the viewer. There too, as in La plante jaune, the artist used sequential imaging to disturb any expectation, attraction or hierarchy of subject in the viewer’s mind. The present work provides a harmonious, colorful and mature evolution of this idea: remove the object from its context so that it may become a subject of its own.

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