FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
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FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from an Important Private Collection
FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)

La Gare

FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955)
La Gare
signed and dated 'F.LEGER. 18' (lower right); signed and dated again and titled 'LA GARE -18- F.LEGER' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 32 in. (65 x 81.2 cm.)
Painted in 1918
Galerie de l'Effort Moderne (Léonce Rosenberg), Paris (acquired from the artist, 17 January 1919).
Pierre Faure, Paris (by 1933).
Rose Valland, Paris (probably on behalf of the above, by May 1939).
Galerie Louis Carré, Paris (acquired from the above, 31 May 1944).
Nadia Léger, Paris (by 1955).
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (acquired from the above, 1966).
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the above, 6 June 1968).
Private collection, United Kingdom (acquired from the above, 13 February 1974); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 8 May 2007, lot 33.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
F. Elgar, "Le primitif des temps modernes" in XXe siècle, numéro spécial hors abonnement: Hommage à F. Léger, 1971, p. 29 (illustrated in color).
P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, p. 45.
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné, 1903-1919, Paris, 1990, vol. I, p. 256, no. 143 (illustrated in color, p. 257).
C. Derouet, Correspondances Fernand LégerLéonce Rosenberg, 1917-1937, New York, 1996, p. 47, letter 46, note 3 and pp. 262 and 286.
Fernand Léger, exh. cat., Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1997, p. 337.
C. Derouet, "Deux remarques sur le destin de Louis Carré et de sa galerie" in Galerie Louis Carré: Histoire et actualité, exh. cat., Association Campredon Art et Culture, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, 2000, pp. 61-62.
C. Bouchoux, Rose Valland: La résistance au musée, La Crèche, 2006, pp 20-21.
Paris, Galerie de L’Effort Moderne (Léonce Rosenberg), Oeuvres par Fernand Léger, February 1919, no. 29.
Geneva, Galerie Moos, La jeune peinture française: Les Cubistes, February 1920, no. 85.
Kunsthaus Zürich, Juan Gris/Fernand Léger, April-May 1933, p. 10, no. 73.
Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Fernand Léger, Exposition rétrospective, October-November 1949, no. 30.
Kunsthalle Basel and Kunsthaus Zürich, Léger, May-August 1957, no. 19 and 20 respectively.
Rome, Palazzo Barberini, Omaggio ad Apollinaire, 1960-1961.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler and Düsseldorf, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Léger, August 1969-February 1970, p. 66, no. 7 and p. 22, no. 21 respectively (illustrated in color).
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts (on extended loan, until 2007).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

“1918: Peace. Man, exasperated, tense, depersonalized for four years, finally raised his head, opened his eyes, looked around, relaxed, and rediscovered his taste for life. A frenzy of dancing, of spending…able at last to walk upright, to shout, to fight, to waste… Living forces, now unleashed, filled the world” (“Color in the World,” in E.F. Fry, ed., Functions of Painting: Fernand Léger, London, 1973, p. 120). So Fernand Léger described the year 1918, the end of the First World War and a time of jubilant creativity in his oeuvre.
Taking as its subject one of the central subjects of modernity—a train station—La Gare was painted this same year. With this work, Léger has reveled in this frenzied return to normality, capturing the cacophonous dynamism of the modern metropolis. Lines, colors, letters, and the gleaming cogs, pistons and machinery of the train station serve as the subjects of this composition, fragmented and deconstructed so to create the overwhelming, immersive effect of life in the city. “How I will gobble Paris up, if I’m lucky enough to go back there!” Léger had written from the Front in 1915, “I’ll fill my pockets with it, and my eyes” (quoted in C. Green, “Fernand Léger’s Multiplicative Vision for a ‘Postwar’ Generation” in Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2014, p. 202).
Léger was discharged from the army at the beginning of 1918. Like Georges Braque, Guillaume Apollinaire, André Derain, Jean Metzinger, and many other members of the avant-garde, at the outbreak of war, Léger enlisted. By October 1914, he was serving at the Front line. Serving first as a sapper, whose job was to dig down beneath “no man’s land” in order to conduct surprise attacks on the Germans, and subsequently as a stretcher-bearer active in some of the deadliest battles of the war, Léger experienced war in all its terrifying reality. He was also a firsthand observer of the immense and deadly power of the machine: a witness of the ruthless precision of machine guns, the rumbling aggression of tanks, and the constant hum of air craft gliding into battle above him.
It was this terrifying yet compelling technological, mechanized, and industrialized life that completely beguiled Léger. The artist found great beauty in the metallic surfaces of canons, the geometry of engines, the smashed debris of a crashed plane behind the Front, or the gleaming barrel of a gun, for example. This constant immersion in mechanical destruction awakened and reinforced in Léger the realization that the machine age had truly begun. The power of technology, he found, was inseparable from modern life, and it is this concept that would underpin his art in the years immediately following his discharge from the army, as exemplified by La Gare.
After a three-month long convalescence during which he began to paint again, Léger finally returned to Paris later in 1918. “Suddenly after the war, walls, roads, objects became brilliantly colored,” he described. “Houses were decked out in blue, yellow, red. Enormous letters were inscribed on them. It is modern life, shattering and brutal” (quoted in E.F. Fry, ed., op. cit., 1973, p. 119). Modern life exploded into his painting, bringing color and compositions filled with dynamic, often complex networks of propellers and cylinders, geometric forms, lines, and discs. Motors, factories, and mechanics, as well as factories and the circus became the artist’s subjects, culminating with La Ville of 1919 (Bauquier, no. 163; Philadelphia Museum of Art).
With these modern subjects and images of modern life, such as La Gare, Léger sought to defy convention and tradition, and instead capture the dynamic energy, speed and pulse of the new machine age. Whereas his pre-war art had eliminated the subject, now Léger openly embraced it in his compulsion to express real life in all its varying forms. Léger infused the same fragmented and fractured pictorial vocabulary that he had developed in the years before the outbreak of war with a new and vital purpose: to glorify the machine. “Three years without touching a paintbrush,” he reminisced to his dealer Léonce Rosenberg later in 1922, “but contact with reality at its most violent, its most crude…the war made me mature, I’m not afraid to say so” (quoted in C. Green, ger and the Avant-Garde, New Haven, 1976, p. 96).
La Gare epitomizes this so-called “mechanical period,” which would come to define Léger's art of the post-war years. In this painting, Léger has brilliantly captured the concept and the experience of a train station—the cathedrals of modernity that had come to serve as the emblem of the cosmopolitan city at the turn-of-the-century. Here, an array of abstract, geometric, and mechanical forms, together with what appear to be letters—as if an advertisement billboard or store front—emblazoned in the center, coalesce and collide to conjure the cacophony of sound, movement, and steam of the modern station. The composite parts of the composition also bear a resemblance to cogs and pistons, rendered with a metallic gleam, as if the elements of a train engine itself. “When I was discharged I saw how I could benefit from these hard years,” Léger later recalled. “I reached a decision; without compromising in any way, I would model in pure and local color, using large volumes. I could do without tasteful arrangements, delicate shading, and dead backgrounds. I was no longer fumbling for the key. I had it. The war nurtured me and I am not afraid to say so. It is my ambition to achieve the maximum pictorial realization by means of plastic contrasts. I couldn’t care less for convention, taste and established style… Right now, I’m going to do some living” (quoted in P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, p. 42).
La Gare has a particularly fascinating provenance. It was acquired from the artist in January 1919, by Léonce Rosenberg. By 1933 it was part of collection of the Parisian collector Pierre Faure, who was a good client of the gallery, and, by May 1939, it was in the possession of Rose Valland, the heroic art historian and member of the French Resistance who, throughout the Occupation of Paris, played a vital role in recording Nazi looted art.
Despite degrees in both fine art and history of art, notably from the École du Louvre and the Sorbonne in Paris, Valland was turned down for a role at the Musée du Louvre. Though highly trained, in 1932 she finally found an unpaid position as a volunteer at the Musée national des écoles étrangères contemporaines, which was based at the time at the Jeu de Paume in Paris. Working closely with the museum’s director, André Dézarrois, Valland worked on the organisation of major pre-war exhibitions, contributed to exhibition catalogues and collection management. Her role exposed her to the work of the key artists of her day, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, and Marc Chagall, among others. It also allowed her to cross paths with leading dealers of the time, including Léonce Rosenberg, Jeanne Bucher, and Daniel Henry-Kahnweiler. By the outbreak of war, she had become an expert in international contemporary art in addition to her specialism in classical art.
When the Nazis invaded Paris, the Jeu de Paume was commandeered as the central site for the Nazi art looting organization, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). Valland was the only French employee allowed to stay on at the museum, carrying out the now legendary work of meticulously documenting the movement of the thousands of looted artworks from national and private French collections. Thanks to her understanding of German—a skill unbeknownst to the Nazis—Valland was able to gather critical information as to the identification and destination of art works—essential knowledge that enabled many of these pieces to be tracked down and recovered after the war.
Alongside her pre-war museum role, Rose Valland published art criticism and supplemented her income through teaching, museum talks and tours. By the late 1930s, Valland also acted as a broker or intermediary in sales between private individuals. In particular, she worked with the Pierre Faure collection. Grandson of the opera singer and Impressionist art collector Jean-Baptiste Faure, Pierre Faure owned a notable collection of Juan Gris, as well as works by the so-called Salon Cubists. In around 1933, he began to sell works from his collection through Louis Carré, Marcel Duchamp, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and Pierre Loeb. A number of paintings were sold through Valland in the late 1930s and, in 1944, the present work was sold to the dealer, Louis Carré, after which it was acquired by the artist’s wife, Nadia Léger.

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