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 European Collection
FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)

Deux danseuses

FERNAND LEGER (1881-1955)
Deux danseuses
signed and dated 'F. LÉGER 28' (lower right)
oil on canvas
36 ½ x 29 in. (92.7 x 73.6 cm.)
Painted in 1928
Pierre Seghers, Paris.
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris.
Galerie Nathan, Zurich (by 1976).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
P. Waldberg, "Hommage à Fernand Léger: Girandole pour Léger" in XXe siècle, 1971, p. 58 (illustrated).
J. Cassou and J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger: Dessins et gouaches, Paris, 1972, p. 111, no. T 50 (illustrated).
W. Schmalenbach, Léger, New York, 1976, p. 32, no. 30 (illustrated).
G. Diehl, F. Léger, Paris, 1985, p. 59 (illustrated in color).
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, 1925-1928, Paris, 1993, p. 288, no. 563 (illustrated in color, p. 289).
H. Lassalle, Léger: Tout l'art, Paris, 1997, p. 36 (illustrated).
Cologne, Kunsthalle, Fernand Léger: Das Figürliche Werk, June 1978, p. 42, no. 17 (illustrated in color).
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Der kühle BlickRealismus der zwanziger Jahre in Europa und Amerika, June-September 2001, no. 217 (illustrated).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

In the late-1920s, Fernand Léger departed from the mechanized imagery that had defined his post-war work and began to favor more organic and natural forms. Gone were the stylized, sleek geometries that characterized his earlier compositions; instead, he began to paint flora, elements of antique statuary, and naturalistic female figures. Created in 1928, Deux danseuses encapsulates this pictorial shift. Here, two women dance within an abstracted setting, each draped with billowing, bright fabric. The work is one in a series that Léger created featuring pairs of classically inspired female figures, and these women would come to dominate his oeuvre in the coming decade; other examples include Les deux graces (Bauquier, no. 653; Moderna Museet, Stockholm) and La Danse, in the collection of the Musée de Grenoble (Bauquier, no. 655).
Initially, Léger began to introduce more classical motifs, such as the Odalisque, into his paintings, but over the course of the decade his style itself also changed as he began to temper his approach. This can be seen in Deux danseuses in which the two figures’ limbs are softer and less rigid than in earlier paintings, and the tonal modelling employed here would become a mainstay of Léger’s figures in the coming years. These women are monumental and substantive, embodying a sense of atemporality.
While the Classical imagery that Léger’s contemporaries considered had been refracted through the Italian Renaissance, Léger’s own treatment of the female nude looked back to Medieval Europe. Christopher Green has suggested that Léger likely visited the Musée de Cluny in Paris, home to one of the largest collections of pre- and proto-Renaissance art, located just a short distance from the artist’s studio. The Louvre, too, had a large collection of Medieval artefacts and artworks and Léger often wandered the museum’s many galleries. Observing the absence of a strict perspectival system and the simplicity of many of Léger’s compositions, he argues for the influence of these earlier traditions, writing that “…these reminiscences are so strong as to add an incongruous and yet unmistakable ‘primitive’ flavor to the central classical theme” (Leger and the Avant-Garde, London, 1976, p. 231). Such legacies are evident in Deux danseuses, whose direct and almost schematic composition echoes the formal qualities of a Medieval tapestry in which figures and settings seem untethered from gravity.
While the tone of Deux danseuses evokes the supposed purity and innocence of times past, Léger’s treatment of the nude was always a means of contending with his own, at times conflicting, ideas that framed his understanding of modernism. Part of the way that he dealt with these competing impulses was to situate his female nudes within ambiguous contexts. For the artist, the isolation of an object was the fundamental concern of his practice during the late-1920s. Léger later explained: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.F. Fry, ed., Functions of Painting: Fernand Léger, London, 1973, p. 132).
“Subject matter was always for Léger a starting point for pictorial invention,” notes Green, and by removing any gesture towards narrative or extraneous iconography, the artist has painted an image that only refers to itself (“‘Mass-Produced’ Classics, 1920-35” in C. Green and J. Daehner, Modern Antiquity: Picasso, De Chirico, Léger, Picabia, exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2011, p. 95). This heightens the enigmatic and timeless quality of Deux danseuses, a painting which already seems beyond time. At once modern and eternal, Léger’s women deny one fixed reading. In remaining inscrutable, they retain their own, internal potency and sense of presence.

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