Executed in 1927, Léger's Femme au vase encapsulates the atmosphere of rationality, harmony and beauty that characterized his involvement with the so-called Rappel à l'ordre, which came in the wake of the turmoil of the First World War. Léger himself fought in the conflict, inspiring an interest in art reflecting the new age of the machine, science and technology. In the present composition, the artist combines the crisp geometry of the background with the rounded, classical feminine form by which he set great store: "every object that has the circle as its basic form is always sought as an attractive force...roundness satisfies the human eye: it is complete, there is no break in continuity. The ball, the sphere are enormous plastic vales" (quoted in J. Cassou and J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger, Drawings and Gouaches, Greenwich, 1973, pp. 88-89). The striking figure has been rendered using arcs and rigid lines with their machine-like precision, invoking the world of modernity which Léger's pictures so eloquently celebrate.
Léger would explore and return to the present motif throughout the mid-1920s; examples in oil are held by the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, as well as by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Interestingly, several of these better-known images show the woman against an entirely blank background, whereas the present Femme au vase is set off by Art Deco stylings, reflecting Léger's interest in architecture as well as art itself.
The present work formerly belonged to pioneering dealer and collector Julien Levy, whose eponymous gallery exhibited modern art from 1931 to its closing in 1949. Levy held the first Surrealist show in New York in 1932 and was the first to exhibit the experimental collages of Joseph Cornell and the photographs of Henri-Cartier Bresson and Lee Miller.
(fig. 1) Fernand Léger, Femme au vase, 1925. Sold, Christie's, London, 9 Feburary 2012, lot 609.