FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
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FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
4 More
Property from a Distinguished Private Collection
FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)

Deux femmes

Details
FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
Deux femmes
oil on canvas
51 1/4 x 31 7/8 in. (130.2 x 81.2 cm.)
Painted in 1929
Provenance
Dr. Ingeborg Pudelko-Eichmann, Venice (by 1949).
Private collection, Switzerland (by 1979).
Private collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above, circa 1999); sale, Christie’s, London, 4 February 2014, lot 30.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
D. Cooper, Fernand Léger et le nouvel espace, Geneva, 1949, pp. 112 and 192 (illustrated, p. 112).
"Hommage à Fernand Léger" in Les lettres françaises, Paris, no. 582, 25-31 August 1955, p. 12 (illustrated).
E.F. Fry, ed., Functions of Painting: Fernand Léger, New York, 1973, p. 70 (illustrated in situ in the artist’s studio, p. 27; dated circa 1925).
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint, 1929-1931, Paris, 1995, vol. IV, p. 94, no. 657 (illustrated, p. 95).
I. Monod-Fontaine and C. Laugier, Fernand Léger, exh. cat., Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1997, p. 27 (illustrated in situ in the artist’s studio, p. 27).
Exhibited
Kunsthalle Bern, Fernand Léger, April-May 1952, no. 54.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Paintings by Fernand Léger, September-October 1952, no. 20.
Mechelen, Culturel Centrum Burgemeester A. Spinoy, Fernand Léger, October-December 1979, p. 60, no. 33. Kunsthaus Zürich, 1979-1999 (on extended loan).

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Vanessa Fusco Head of 20th Century Evening Sale, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art

Lot Essay

Painted in 1929, Fernand Léger’s Deux femmes dates from a pivotal moment in the artist’s career as he left behind the austere mechanical aesthetic that had defined his immediate post-war work, and began to depict a more natural and organic conception of the world. Female figures, as well as natural objects, dominate his art of the late 1920s, as his paintings became freed from the rigid, geometric stasis that had governed his earlier work and infused with a new rhythm and heightened sense of life.
Here, two women appear perched atop a rocky outcrop, like modern sirens within an abstracted setting. This is one of a series of paintings from this year that feature pairs of female figures in classically inspired settings. One of these, entitled Les deux grâces, is now in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (Bauquier, no. 653), two others, both entitled La Danse are in the Hiroshima Museum of Art and the Musée de Grenoble respectively (Bauquier, nos. 654 and 655).
The female figure had entered Léger’s art in the early 1920s. Like many of his contemporaries in post-war Europe, the artist had responded to the rappel à l’ordre—an artistic movement that embodied the aesthetics of Classicism in response to the chaos and devastation wrought by the war. As a result, he had begun to introduce reclining Odalisques and nudes into his art: in works such as Le grand déjeuner of 1921 (Bauquier, no. 311; The Museum of Modern Art, New York), women are placed within a contemporary setting, their bodies constructed from geometric forms as Léger created a novel, modern conception of the female nude.
As the decade progressed however, Léger’s compositions loosened: objects floated and hovered, while his depictions of the human form became softer and less mechanized. Though the women in Deux femmes are depicted with tubular, cylindrical forms that have an almost metallic gleam to them, they are no longer composed of distinct facets, and are undoubtedly softer and more human than their earlier robotic antecedents. The taller figure appears with one arm raised, as if a modern-day caryatid. At once contemporary and timeless, these two figures defy identification, their identities inscrutable as they gaze out of the picture plane.
The enigmatic quality of this composition is heightened by the lack of a contextual background or setting. As well as the gradual softening of Léger’s handling of the human form, over the course of the 1920s, he also ceased to depict the female figure within a recognizable spatial or architectural setting. Instead, he placed women, as well as objects from nature—leaves, stones and shells, among others—within abstract, highly colored spaces, such as can be seen in Deux femmes. In removing the human figure from a spatial context, Léger transformed it from an artistic subject, rich with pictorial allusions, meanings and associated narratives, into a “figure-object” that referred only unto itself.
For Léger, the isolation of the object was a central aim of his art in the late 1920s; he stated later in 1945, “As long as the human body is considered a sentimental or expressive value in painting, no new evolution in pictures will be possible. Its development has been hindered by the domination of the subject over the ages… In contemporary modern painting, the object must become the leading character and dethrone the subject. Then, in turn, if the person, the face, and the human body become objects, the modern artist will be offered considerable freedom” (“The Human Body Considered as an Object,” quoted in E. Fry, ed., Functions of Painting: Fernand Léger, London, 1973, p. 132). By liberating the female nude from all its superfluous contextual connotations and meanings, Léger transformed this artistic subject into a purely plastic pictorial object, and therefore forged a bold new conception of the human form in art.
Deux femmes was formerly in the collection of art historian and collector, Dr. Ingeborg Pudelko-Eichmann. Following her studies in art history at the University of Zürich, she began collecting work by the key cubists, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso, and Léger. In the late 1920s, Eichmann met and fell in love with the legendary collector, Dr. Gottlieb Friedrich Reber, who introduced her to his network of dealers, including Alfred Flechtheim. She later married the German art historian, Dr. Georg Pudelko, whose previous wife had been Gisela Reber, the daughter of Gottlieb. In addition to the present work and others, she also owned Picasso’s famed cubist work of 1913-1914, Femme en chemise assise dans un fauteuil, formerly in Reber’s collection, and now part of the Leonard A. Lauder Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
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