Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
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Fernand Léger (1881-1955)

Etude pour Le remorqueur (Architecture-Paysage)

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Etude pour Le remorqueur (Architecture-Paysage)
signed with the initials and dated 'F.L 23' (lower right)
pencil on paper
9¾ x 12 5/8 in. (24.7 x 32.1 cm.)
Drawn in 1923
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
Perls Galleries, New York (no. 12845).
Sidney Janis Galleries, New York (no. 15815).
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1984.
M. Jardot, Léger, dessins, Paris, 1953, no. 25.
J. Cassou & J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger, Drawings and gouaches, London, 1973, no. 109 (illustrated p. 82).
G. Néret, Fernand Léger, Paris, 1990, no. 163.
Paris, Galerie Louise Leiris, Fernand Léger, Dessins et Gouaches 1909-1955, February - March 1958.
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Les dessins français du 20ème siècle, 1959, no. 136.
Tokyo, Seibu Gallery, Rétrospective Fernand Léger, March - April 1972, no. 17; this exhibition later travelled to Nagoya, Meitetsu Gallery, April 1972; and Fukuoka, Cultural Center, May 1972.
Paris, Galerie Berggruen, Fernand Léger, Gouaches, Aquarelles et Dessins, 1979, no. 14.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Paintings by Fernand Léger, December 1984 - January 1985, no. 20.
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Fernand Léger, Oeuvres sur papier, April - June 1989, no. 57.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Fernand Léger, November 1989 - February 1990, no. 94.
Villeneuve d'Ascq, Musée d'Art Moderne, Fernand Léger, March - June 1990, no. 100.
Paris, Galerie Berggruen & Cie, Fernand Léger, gouaches, aquarelles et dessins, October - November 1996, no. 20 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

Léger first painted the subject of a tugboat set within a dockside urban industrial landscape in a watercolour and two paintings done in 1918-1919. No artist of the last century has so glorified the tugboat, the lowly workhorse of the seaside or river port, and made it such a potent emblem of modernism. He returned to this theme in 1920-1921, when he painted two versions of Le pont de remorqueur (Bauquier, nos. 255 and 256; for the latter, see fig. 1). In these compositions the artist virtually enmeshed the vertical tower of the tug's steering house, its ladderways, railings, hatches and ventilation stacks, with the buildings and landscape (including a tree) behind it, thus creating a fully integrated harmony of human technology and commerce, architecture and the natural world. Léger painted this subject again in 1922 (B., no. 341). In the following year he executed the present drawing, which then led to several paintings of urban industrial architecture, with riverside factories and quays: Architecture avec personnage, Architecture, and La gare (B., nos. 344-346 respectively). In these paintings the tugboat is absent, or its presence implied - these are scenes that the crew views from the boat as it plies the river and approaches its mooring-place.

The present drawing retains the circular forms seen in the two earlier versions of Le pont de remorqueur, where they perhaps depicted billows of smoke or steam, and are here transformed into leafy treetops scattered among the buildings, as seen in the 1923 architecture paintings. Similar forms had served as puffy clouds in the background of Léger's paysage animés. Léger again suggests that the scene is viewed while standing on the tug, looking over the boat's slanting railing, as well as through the portholes in its side, toward the buildings that line the quay. Léger's adroit use of pencil shading in this drawing more than compensates for the absence of colour when compared with the oil paintings; the architecture, while mostly rectilinear and basically flat, nevertheless possesses a greater sense of depth than that seen in the canvases.

Léger painted the final versions of the tugboat theme in 1923, in two versions of the aptly titled Le grand remorqueur (B., nos. 347 and 348; the latter in the Musée National Fernand Léger, Biot). The tug dominates the foreground in this pair of compositions, with rolling, tree-dotted hills behind it, as the factories and warehouses now appear not close-up, but in the far distance, as if situated in some Arcadian fantasy of the modern industrial landscape. Christopher Green has written 'there was, in fact, a great distance between the environmental ideal of the Purists, the world which Léger thought of as modern, and the reality of 1920s Paris... It required a highly selective attitude to modern life for the ornate and cluttered realities of Paris of the boulevards to be ignored... Even the industrial suburbs did not quite achieve the ordered image sought, and Ozenfant imported photographs of grain silos, docks and factories from the United States to complete the ideal picture. These were used to illustrate Ozenfant's article 'Trois Rappels à Mm. les Architectes' (L'Esprit Nouveau, vol. 2, no. 4), and Léger rebuilt them in polychromatic pictorial terms, combined with elements from the actual Seine industrial landscape, as setting for Le grand remorqueur (1923)' (in Léger and Purist Paris, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, 1970, p. 71).

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