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Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
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Property from an East Coast Estate
Fernand Léger (1881-1955)

Deux oiseaux et une fleur

Details
Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Deux oiseaux et une fleur
signed and dated 'F. LEGER 53' (lower right); signed and dated again and titled 'DEUX OISEAUX et une fleur F. LEGER 53' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 36 ¼ in. (60.2 x 92 cm.)
Painted in 1953.
Provenance
Galerie Louis Carré, Paris.
Galerie Bonnier, Geneva (before 1974).
Nylen collection, Sweden.
Giuseppe Nahmad, Geneva.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, 25 February 1987.
Literature
I. Hansma and C. Lefebvre du Preÿ, Fernand Léger, 1952-1953, Paris, 2013 (illustrated in situ in the artist’s studio on the frontispiece).
Exhibited
Copenhagen, Charlottenborg, Fernand Léger, Malerier, Tegninfer og Grafik, 1959, p. 21, no. 39 (illustrated; dated 1947).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Fernand Léger, October-November 1964, no. 92.
Geneva, Galerie Motte and Paris, Galerie 22, F. Léger, September-October 1974, p. 30, no. 26 (illustrated in color).
Geneva, Musée de l’Athénée, Léger-Vasarely, July-September 1979, no. 9 (illustrated).
Post Lot Text
Please note that the present lot is displayed with a loaner frame for the exhibition, which is available for purchase.

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Combining bold color, lines and recognizable forms taken from the everyday world, Fernand Léger’s Deux oiseaux et une fleur encapsulates the artist’s late style, serving as a joyous evocation of the modern world that he had long exalted in his art. Painted in 1953, Deux oiseaux et une fleur is one of a series of radiant landscapes Léger worked on that year, all of which juxtapose organic and mechanical elements to create a new and bold kind of modern landscape painting, one that was filled with luminosity, vitality, and was, following the artist’s desire at this time, accessible to a widespread audience.
In the final decade of his career, following his return to France in 1945 from his wartime exile in New York, Léger sought to create a pictorial language that would balance, “familiar imagery, an architectural function of painting, and themes stressing the permanence of man” (P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, p. 228). Importantly, he brought back from America a renewed interest in the landscape. In Léger’s modern arcadia, idyllic scenes of nature are invaded by constructions of the technological age. Organic shapes are woven into a framework of distinct vertical and horizontal elements fashioned from pylons, industrial signs and power lines, as well as the fluid, amorphous abstract motifs that had featured in his art the 1920s. As Deux oiseaux et une fleur shows, nature’s inhabitants—flowers, plants, birds—as well as the rolling silhouette of hills and what seems to be a cluster of cubistically-constructed houses on the horizon, are juxtaposed with the ascending vertical forms of telegraph masts on the right hand side of the composition.
The most novel element in Léger’s mature approach to the world around him in these works, however, is the use of bands and planes of pure color that both confirm to or work independently from contour lines. In the present work, the colors of the French tricolor make up the majority of the composition, sweeping across in floating, horizontal forms. These formal components not only construct the setting of painting, but imbue it with an allegorical dimension, the colors of the French flag a paean perhaps to the artist’s native home. “The plastic life, the picture, is made up of harmonious relationships among volumes, lines, and colors,” Léger declared in “Modern Painting,” an unpublished essay written in 1950. “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” (quoted in E.F. Fry, ed., Fernand Léger: Functions of Paintings, New York, 1973, p. 168).
Since the 1930s Léger had been striving to create a popular art that would communicate clearly and effectively among large numbers of people he believed would be receptive to art, but had few opportunities to enjoy it. While using the modern syntax of his late mural style, Léger has ensured that Deux oiseaux et une fleur is a universally communicative and engaging painting. Peter de Francia observed that, “Intensity of reality is achieved by the contrast of prosaic objects with pictorial artifice... Léger’s paintings are exorcized of mystery. Formalized elements, used sparingly, invalidate any tendency to interpret figuration in terms of naturalism... Each element is completely predictable and readable” (op. cit., 1983, p. 228).
Léger had no wish to remind his viewers of the contemporaneous Cold War crises and the growing threat of nuclear annihilation. In his art there would not be any suggestion of existentialist angst or a call for deep philosophical reflection on issues of the day. Instead he would provide a simple, joyful aesthetic for the anxious public by placing his art in the wider context of human history, in which humankind seemed blessed with the capacity to endure and carry on, while maintaining fundamental values. To this end he reached back, as many modern artists have done, to the mythic and classical foundations of human culture. Léger declared:
“We are experiencing space more than ever before. Man is growing and expanding in all directions; there’s a competition to escape and leave behind all earthly constraints, to flee what is solid and concrete. A nervous mobility is taking over the world. Everything is moving and escaping from traditional constraints... And yet, we want to go backwards, too see life run in reverse, like a movie: all the traditional sanctuaries and safe havens return, the lights are extinguished, the hierarchies and inexplicable mysteries are reestablished, and we once again find respect for the great natural forces. The birds will always be marvelously dressed in color, progress is a meaningless word, and a cow that nourishes the world will always move at three kilometers an hour” (quoted in G. Néret, F. Léger, New York, 1993, p. 238).

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