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

Silex blanc sur fond jaune

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Silex blanc sur fond jaune
signed with the initials, dated and inscribed 'Silex Sept.32 - F.L' (lower right)
gouache and pen and India ink on cream paper
19½ x 27½ in. (49.5 x 70 cm.)
Executed in September 1932
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (no. 14973).
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1970.
J. Cassou & J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger, Drawings and gouaches, London, 1973, no. 171 (illustrated p. 123).
P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, no. 6.9 (illustrated p. 119).
Basel, Galerie d'Art Moderne (Marie-Susanne Feigel), Fernand Léger, Gouaches et Dessins de 1921 à 1938, November 1964 - January 1965, no. 29.
Tokyo, Seibu Gallery, Rétrospective Fernand Léger, March - April 1972, no. 42; this exhibition later travelled to Nagoya, Meitetsu Gallery, April 1972; and Fukuoka, Cultural Centre, May 1972.
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, Cabinet d'Art Graphique, Fernand Léger, La Poésie de l'Objet 1928-1934, May - July 1981, no. 28 (illustrated p. 61).
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Fernand Léger, 1983, no. 77.
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Fernand Léger, Oeuvres sur papier, April - June 1989, no. 76.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Fernand Léger, November 1989 - February 1990, no. 114.
Villeneuve d'Ascq, Musée d'Art Moderne, Fernand Léger, March - June 1990, no. 122.
Helsinki, Ateneum, Léger og Norden, August - October 1992, no. 57; this exhibition later travelled to Stockholm, Moderna Museet, October 1992 - January 1993; Høvikodden, Henie-Onstad Kunstsentret, January - March 1993; and Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, April - June 1993.
Tokyo, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, Fernand Léger, April - June 1994, no. 108; this exhibition later travelled to Kagawa, Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art, June - July 1994; Aichi, The Aichi Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, August - September 1994; and Ibaraki, The Museum of Modern Art, September - November 1994.
Paris, Galerie Berggruen & Cie, Fernand Léger, gouaches, aquarelles et dessins, October - November 1996, no. 32 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, Fernand Léger, May - September 1997, no. 2 (illustrated p. 196).
Madrid, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Fernand Léger, October 1997 - January 1998.
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Lot Essay

In the late 1920s Léger began to introduce objects of irregular, organic form into his compositions, as another way of creating contrasting pictorial elements. He was to some extent influenced by the Surrealists, especially Jean Arp and Yves Tanguy, who often looked for inspiration in naturally occurring forms. In discussing this period, Jean Cassou and Jean Leymarie have noted Léger's 'fascination with the object': 'Léger was now breaking away from the world of machines and turning toward natural forms which were essentially vegetable, mineral, animal... From the phase of dispersion in space, he kept the principle of using a neutral background in depth, against which the objects were grouped. But most often he detached a single object and set it down with the precision of a scholar and the fervour of a poet, using a resolutely classical style' (op. cit,, p. 115).

Léger found his subjects in trees, especially their gnarled trunks and roots. He drew the scalloped contours of leaves and the rough surfaces of mere stones - anything that he might observe or pick up on the grounds on his family's farm in Normandy. The present drawing shows a fragment of flint, the hard quartz stone that primitive men had used to make tools and ignite their fires. Léger drew it close up and magnified, conjuring primordial forms out of its fractured shape. This primitive object becomes a visual analogy that suggests other natural landscape forms, both inanimate and living. It possesses a universal, cosmic dimension as well; Silex is related to the comet shapes that Léger also painted around this time. Léger also drew and coloured another version of his subject, cast against a blue background, formerly in the collection of Maurice Jardot, Paris, and donated to the Musée de Belfort, in 1997.

Léger created his natural world from such small components, working from small to large. These germinal elements became the basis for his new interest in the landscape during the early 1930s, in which he combined the figure and natural forms. Léger wrote,'One becomes aware that everything is equally interesting, that the human form, the human body, are not more important, from the plastic point of view, than a tree, a plant, a fragment of rock or a rope' (Ibid., p. 117).

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