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

La gare

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
La gare
signed with the initials and dated 'F.L 18' (lower right)
gouache and brush and India ink on paper
12¾ x 14 5/8 in. (32.4 x 37.1 cm.)
Executed in 1918
The artist's estate (no. G-430).
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1969.
G. Néret, Fernand Léger, Paris, 1990, no. 97.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Fernand Léger, June - October 1956, no. 180.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Fernand Léger, July - August 1957, no. 158.
Dortmund, Museum am Ostwall, Fernand Léger, September - October 1957, no. 68.
Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Fernand Léger, Gemälde, Gouachen, Zeichnungen, June - September 1967, no. 33.
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Fernand Léger, 1983, no. 72.
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Fernand Léger, Oeuvres sur papier, April - June 1989, no. 32.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Fernand Léger, November 1989 - February 1990, no. 73.
Villeneuve d'Ascq, Musée d'Art Moderne, Fernand Léger, March - June 1990, no. 79.
Paris, Galerie Berggruen & Cie, Fernand Léger, gouaches, aquarelles et dessins, October - November 1996, no. 7 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

This gouache is related to the painting La gare, also executed in 1918 (Bauquier, no. 143; fig. 1). The central rectangular panel - containing the number '10' in the present gouache, the letters 'RO' in the related painting - also appears in the background of the painting Le typographe, 1917-1918 (B., no. 146; private collection). Christopher Green has noted the 'disintegrated style' seen in certain compositions of this period (in Léger and the Avant-garde, New Haven, 1976, p. 157). While continuing to draw his subjects from modern life, Léger proceeded to render them more ambiguously or obscurely than before, within a spacial context devoid of perspective. In La gare one may detect a station platform and column at upper right; the circular form below it is perhaps a public address loudspeaker, and the central panel may be a sign with a track number. However, while the artist has generally strived to create the effect of the spacious yet confining architecture of a railway station, the transitions are abrupt and disconnective, and the pictorial unity in this composition stems primarily from jarring contrast of formal elements.

Coming in wake of such complex and multi-layered mechanical compositions as Le moteur (B., 138; formerly in the collection of René Gaffé; sale Christie's New York, 1 November 2001, lot 6), the La gare pictures demonstrate that Léger was seeking greater purity in his pictorial forms, by reducing to flat colour planes those elements that he had hitherto modelled and superimposed one upon another. The centered subject composed in a cylindrical manner has in these instances disappeared, or more accurately here, they have been reduced to minor, incidental motifs, such as the peg-like shapes at lower right. Instead, numerous geometrical elements vie simultaneously for the viewer's attention. The grid of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, that normally constituted the background in Léger's previous mechanical subjects, has here been brought forward, so that it now comprises the composition itself. The space is generally flat, even if the artist has left open small doors that open into interior, compartmentalised spaces behind the dominant wall-like forms.

Green has stated, 'Less concentrated and less simple in its references to a modern reality, the disintegrated style possessed more than the cylinder style the potential for stating its 'equivalence' to a wide-ranging, all-embracing experience of modern life. The process of disintegration led to a complex variety of pictorial conflicts which, for Léger, seems to have been essential to that all-embracing experience' (ibid.). The artist wrote in 1923, 'I oppose curves to straight lines, flat surfaces to moulded forms, pure local colours to nuances of grey. These initial plastic forms are either superimposed on objective elements or not - it makes no difference to me. There is only a question of variety' (in "Notes on Contemporary Plastic Life", Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, p. 25).

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