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 PRIVATE COLLECTION
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)

Composition aux dominos

Details
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
Composition aux dominos
signed and dated '47 F. LEGER' (lower right); signed again, dated and inscribed 'Composition aux Dominos F LEGER 47' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
36 ¼ x 23 5/8 in. (92.2 x 60 cm.)
Painted in 1947
Provenance
Buchholz Gallery [Curt Valentin], New York (no. 12078), by 1950.
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (no. 13181).
Galerie de l'Élysée [Alex Maguy], Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1972.
Literature
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné, vol. VII, 1944-1948, Paris, 2000, no. 1263, p. 172 (illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, Buchholz Gallery, Léger: Recent Paintings & Le Cirque, November - December 1950, no. 10, n.p. (illustrated pl. 10).
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Fernand Léger, Paintings, Drawings, Lithographs, Ceramics, December 1954 - January 1955, no. 22, p. 15.
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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Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay


A lively arrangement of colour, line and form, Fernand Léger’s Composition aux dominos exemplifies the renewed passion and vigour with which the artist approached painting in the years following the Second World War. Léger painted the present work in 1947, just one year after he returned to France after living in America during the war. Emboldened by bright, vivid colours and Surrealist-like plant forms, this dynamic still life takes as its subject games of chance and their effects: poker chips, dominoes and dice, all arranged within a fantastical landscape bustling with brilliant, green plant life and biomorphic flowering blossoms. Léger believed in the power of art to inspire and uplift the common man after a period of prolonged war, and in Composition aux dominos he makes reference to one of his favourite topics - the leisure activities of a newly liberated humanity.
Composition aux dominos belongs to a unique subset of Léger’s still-life paintings, as it features the flattened and schematic rendering of dominoes, arranged within a colourful tableau of flowering plants and abstract forms. Léger painted several such paintings between 1937 and 1951, with the present work being one of the largest in the series. Here, towering vegetation in vibrant colours is rendered in flat, biomorphic shapes and delineated in crisp, black outlines. Curiously, the entire scene has a great sense of perspectival depth even though Leger’s depictions are resolutely flat. This is particularly the case in his depiction of the dominoes, which tend to shift perspective, transforming from flat pieces into three-dimensional cubes resembling dice. This results in a dynamic, rhythmic interplay, where the forms perpetually shift and evolve, exemplifying the ‘new realism’ that Léger sought to portray in his work of this era.
‘Léger had long been interested in how working class people spend their free time, and believed that without leisure it would be impossible for them to fully enjoy art,’ Beth Handler explained, writing in Léger’s 1998 retrospective catalogue (Fernand Léger, exh. cat., New York, 1998, p. 237). Indeed, from about 1946 onward, Léger’s chief subjects would be nature, the pursuit of leisure, and labour. These themes would reach their pinnacle in 1950 with his masterpiece Les Constructeurs, in the Museé National Fernand Léger in Biot, France. And yet, the seeds of this great phase were sown during the war years in the United States. While in the U.S., Léger was inspired by the American landscape, especially its fast pace and its rapidly industrializing cities, and this had an energizing effect on his paintings. ‘During these years in America I do feel I have worked with a greater intensity and achieved more expression than in my previous work,’ he declared. ‘What has come out most notably... in the work I have done in America is in my opinion a new energy – an increased movement within the composition’ (quoted in J. J. Sweeney, “Eleven Europeans in America,” Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, Vol. 13, No. 4/5, 1946, p. 14).
Having come of age in Paris during the 1910s and 1920s, Léger was one of the innovators of a Cubist-derived vernacular, one that was chiefly influenced by the speed and dynamism of the machine age. In Composition aux dominos, he references an earlier still-life technique favoured by the cubists, whose work often featured playing cards, dice, and game boards along with bottles of wine, cups and newspapers. For Léger and the cubists alike, the flat schematic design of the dominoes acted as a foil to the flat, two-dimensional surface of the canvas support. The same is true for the playing cards, pieces of torn wallpaper and faux bois that these artists often depicted alongside other three-dimensional elements like bottles and cups. By featuring two-dimensional elements in fragmentary and overlapping viewpoints, these radical innovations were some of the first to interrogate and ultimately destabilize the picture plane as it was traditionally conceived.
In taking as his subject the flat, schematic design of the dominoes, Léger wittily references those earlier Cubist innovations. He has also liberated each of his chosen objects from the formal dictates of traditional three-dimensional representation, allowing them to float freely in space. Colour, especially, breaks free from that which it signifies in Composition aux dominos, becoming its own independent entity; and yet, nearly every form overlaps its neighbour in one interconnected and integrated whole. It is in these innovations that Léger’s painting achieves its plastic goal. The result is an animated, but pictorially unified, presentation of line, form and colour, manifesting Léger’s chief concern, which Katherine Kuh so eloquently described as ‘a vehicle of an entirely new lyric and plastic power’ (ger, exh. cat., Chicago, 1953, p. 66).

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