Fernand Léger painted his spirited, colorful and pulsing still life Le cinq de trèfle in 1947, the year following his return to France at the end of the Second World War. With a renewed passion and determination, more than ever Léger set about to create paintings that embodied both aesthetic and social concerns. Indeed this was the period that led to his celebrated 1950 masterpiece, Les Constructeurs, the final version of which is in the Musée National Fernand Léger, Biot, France.
As is the case for that work, Le cinq de tràfle is filled with a riot of bright and vivacious colors. These are thrust into even bolder relief through the contrasting forms that make up this still life. Along with the dice, cards and counters on the surface is a range of strange, sometimes amorphous plants, flowers and almost Arp-like growths that show the painter's continued fascination with Surrealist forms. Not unlike the pieces of a mechanical apparatus, the forms here may interlock into a unified whole, but without the illusion of unity, for the composition's sense of order has a decidedly rambunctious feel to it. Items of mass consumption are juxtaposed with organic elements for neither narrative purpose nor abstract effect, but fundamentally to function as part of a construction. Léger himself explained his conceptual approach in the following way:
The plastic life, the picture, is made up of harmonious relationships among volumes, lines, and colours. These are the three forces that must govern works of art. If, in organising these three essential elements harmoniously, one finds that objects, elements of reality, can enter into the composition, it may be better and may give the work more richness. But they must be subordinated to the three essential elements mentioned above (quoted in C. Lanchner, Fernand Léger, exh.cat., New York, 1998, p. 247).
In Le cinq de trèfle the vibrant jostle of forms, with the contrasts between the gaming pieces, the girder and the various plants and flowers, testifies to Léger's concern with color, line and volume, but especially color. "Colour is a human need like water and fire," he explained the year before Le cinq de trèfle was painted. "It is a raw material indispensable to life. In every period of his existence and history, man has associated it with his joys, his acts, and pleasures" (quoted in E.F. Fry, ed., Léger, Functions of Painting, London, 1973, p. 149). These words Léger wrote shortly after returning to a depleted and damaged France in 1946. Falling back in love with his homeland, he worked especially to bring aesthetic ideas into the everyday. Le cinq de trèfle fulfils that function, presenting itself as a playful still life, a rhythmic, energetic celebration of the simple things, and crucially a beacon of the joy in color, a joy able to illuminate our lives.