Towards the end of the 1920s, Léger felt that the discipline of classicism had become more stricture than strength, and that the imposition of order had begun to encumber him in his efforts to maximize the expression of contrasts in both object and form in his paintings, which had always been and should remain, he believed, the primary impetus in his art. During 1928 he began to divest his work of the classical structure that had underpinned the grand still-life compositions he had painted in recent years, and he discarded those rigid, geometric frames which had enforced "the call to order" in his paintings. He then cut loose the object from its accustomed formal moorings and allowed it to float freely across the canvas, lending his compositions an agreeable sense of randomness and spontaneity that was entirely new in his work (e.g. Bauquier, no. 712).
"I placed objects in space so that I could take them as a certainty. I felt that I could not place an object on a table with diminishing its value...I selected an object, chucked the table away. I put the object in space, minus perspective. Minus anything to hold it there. I then had to liberate color to an even greater extent" (Léger quoted in P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, p. 111).
"Léger's objects have escaped from the domination of the subject," Jean Leymarie has observed, "as they have from the pull of gravity; they invert or reject perspective, loom up and recede in the air, with the power and mystery of pictures in slow motion [Bauquier, no. 643]. This decisive change, the abrupt turning from a static, frontal, solemn order to a fluid and playful freedom, corresponds to the painter's internal dialectic" (in J. Cassou and J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger, Drawings and Gouaches, London, 1973, p. 99).
The present work--an emblem of the artist's newfound "fluidity," the autumnal leaf floating off to the right--marks the third of Léger's large, horizontal Quatre Saisons, commissioned in 1929 for dealer Léonce Rosenberg's new Paris apartment on rue de Longchamp. Also executing works for the modernist residence were Giorgio de Chirico, Auguste Herbin, Jean Metzinger and Georges Valmier.
(fig. 1) Léger at work in his studio, 1931.