'I consider plastic beauty in general to be completely independant from sentimental, descriptive, and imitative values. Every object, picture, architectural work and ornamental arrangement has an intrinsic value that is strictly absolute, independent of what it represents. Many individuals would be unintentionally sensitive to beauty (of a visual object) if the preconceived idea of the objet d'art did not act as a blindfold. Bad visual education is the cause of it, along with the modern mania for classifications at any price, for categorising individuals as if they were tools. Men are afraid of free will which is, after all, the only state of mind possible for registering beauty... My aim is to try to lay down this notion: that there are no categories or hierarchies of Beauty - this is the worst possible error. The Beautiful is everywhere; perhaps more in the arrangement of your saucepans in the white walls of your kitchen than in your eighteenth-century living room or in the official museums' (F. Léger, The Machine Aesthetic: The Manufactured Object, the Artisan and the Artist, 1924).
Composition aux trois clés was painted during a time of great upheaval in Léger's art. His purist, geometric aesthetic had reached its culmination only a short while previously when his work had achieved a sublime balance of form and colour that was based on the integral beauty of an isolated object. Now, however, Léger began to use the forms in his paintings to disrupt and unbalance the harmony that he had strived for so fiercely.
Although Léger had largely turned his back on the geometry and order that represented his visual expression of purism, he continued to employ both real objects and images of abstraction together in his pictorial vocabulary. These object-based but semi-abstract paintings, like Composition aux trois clés, express what Léger called a 'lyricism in which colour, form and object play equal parts', each blending into a new objective unity that Léger hoped would enhance the inherent beauty to be found in the everyday modern world. Each element therefore is given equal status in the carefully studied composition and each element independently contributes an equal importance in the vibrant construction of the whole. As Léger stated in 1925; 'In contemporary life if one looks twice, and this is an admirable thing to do, there is no longer anything of negligible value. Everything counts, everything competes and the scale of ordinary, conventional values is overturned' (The Machine Aesthetic II, Paris, 1925).
The propagandist of the 1920s who had attempted almost to impose his utopian vision of order had given way to a softer aesthetic, communicating his perceived beauty of the everyday world through a sensory and sensual explosion of form and colour. 'It is quite useless to make an attempt to force people to be aware of reality by simply showing them a replica of the reality surrounding them since...they are aware of it already. And it is no use claiming that in doing so one is revealing something that they have either failed to notice or remained insensitive to. Painters aren't conjurors. But what is important is to make them aware, through the unexpected things they discover in a painting, which may at first appear new and strange, of the newness of a reality they would like to know - something that could add enormously to their lives' (Léger, quoted in P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New York & London, 1983, p. 210).