Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
Property Sold by the Art Institute of Chicago
Fernand Leger (1881-1955)


Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
signed and dated 'F. LEGER 47' (lower right); signed and dated again and titled 'F. LEGER F.IGURE 47' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
25 ½ x 21 ¼ in. (64.9 x 54 cm.)
Painted in 1947
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris.
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York.
Mary and Earle Ludgin, Chicago (November 1950).
Gift from the above to the present owner, 1981.
D.-H. Kahnweiler, "Fernand Léger," The Burlington Magazine, vol. XCII, no. 564, March 1950, p. 66 (illustrated, fig. 6; titled Head).
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné, 1944-1948, Paris, 2000, vol. 7, p. 157, no. 1250 (illustrated).
New York, Buchholz Gallery, Léger, Recent Paintings and Le Cirque, November-December 1950, no. 11.
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Ludgin Collection of Contemporary Paintings, April-May 1954.
The Art Institute of Chicago, The Mary and Earle Ludgin Collection, September-October 1982.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco

Lot Essay

After five years of wartime exile, Léger returned to France in December 1945. He was glad to be home. In "Art and the People," a 1946 article published in the journal Arts de France, Léger declared, "I want to tell what I felt in returning to France, the joy I have had in rediscovering my country... I assure you that the people have made a great advance in France. I assure you that a magnificent evolution has come about... I have faith in France" (quoted in E.F. Fry, ed., Fernand Léger, Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, pp. 147-148).
The return to his homeland corresponded with a period of intense creativity for the artist. Léger began working toward a crowning series of large murals, culminating in La grande parade, 1954 (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York). Engaging in an increasingly diverse range of projects, within a few years he commanded a small army of studio assistants, artisans and craftsmen to help him create ceramics, monumental sculptures, mosaics and stained-glass windows. He directed his own school, the Atelier Fernand Léger on the boulevard Clichy, where he had as many as a hundred students at a time. The reputation he established in New York during the war encouraged many young Americans artists, including Sam Francis, Richard Stankiewicz, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski, to seek him out and enroll in his Atelier under the G.I. Bill. Remarkably, Léger found time to paint numerous easel-sized paintings as well, some of which are directly related to his larger compositions. There are independent figures, abstract pictures that were intended as ideas for murals, and still-life paintings in the time-honored French tradition of Chardin.
In the political climate of post-war France, it was more important than ever to Léger to develop a strikingly novel, but still decorative, approach to the modern presentation of objects, in order to create an art that was accessible to the working classes. In these years, Léger spent considerable time with the poet, Paul Eluard, who had become a prominent voice of the Resistance during the war. In the same year as the present work, Léger painted Eluard’s portrait (fig. 2), which is closely related to Figure (the present work). Léger’s oil portrait of the poet would serve as the stylistic model for his 1953 illustration of Eluard’s celebrated, Liberté, written in 1942 during the German occupation of France (fig. 4).
In both the painting of Eluard and in Figure, Léger retains the black contours of the face while discarding all local color. The imagery is consequently graphic and reductive, rendered entirely in black outlines against a white ground partially covered with bands and patches of pure color—in this case red, green and yellow—which are not directly tied to the form. In the present work, the curved forms of the woman’s hair stand out against the surrounding stiff lines, creating both a sense of depth and movement. He reworked several of the colored passages, applying additional layers of color to the bands as well as to the white background.
The face of Figure is transformed into an anonymous object depicted as volume, line and color, devoid of psychological insight or sense of personal individuality. It exists primarily for its plastic qualities and potential. Here, as Léger explained, “The human figure remains purposely inexpressive” (Functions of Painting, Paris, 1973, p. 155). In the catalogue for his 1952 exhibition at Galerie Louis Carré, The Figure in Léger’s Art, he again emphasized the need for the artist to break away from the sentimentality of subjects such as landscapes and portraits: “The object has replaced the subject, abstract art has freed us, and we can now consider the human figure not as a sentimental value, but solely as a plastic value…I know that this very radical idea of the figure as an object revolts a lot of people, but I cannot do anything about that. In my latest paintings, which have figures related to subjects, perhaps you will think that the human figure tends to become a major object. The future will tell if that is better in plastic terms or if it is a mistake. In any case, the present arrangement is still dominated by the contrast in values which is the whole point of this evolution” (quoted in Y. Brunhammer, Fernand Léger, The Monumental Art, Paris 2005, p. 96)

More from Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale

View All
View All