Later people are going to see that this modern art of ours is not so revolutionary as it seems, that it is linked to those old traditions against which it was obliged to struggle in a lonely battle before breaking free. (Léger, quoted in P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, p. 220).
The bright colours and joyous shapes of Des lettres dans un paysage seem a far cry from the academic traditions prevalent in French art at the beginning of Léger's career. Yet, at the heart of this painting lies the same raw, unabashed appreciation of beauty prevalent in the paintings of Gustave Courbet or even William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Painted in 1953, only two years before his death and one year after he had moved to Gif-sur-Yvette, this paean to the modern world buzzes with vitality. The colors and shifting shapes, the contrast between the hard geometry of the letters and the sensuous shape of the verdure provide the viewer with a visual feast, a sensory explosion of beauty. Despite the absence of figures in this work, Des lettres dans un paysage is packed with life. This humble cityscape has been elevated to its rightful status as a source of great beauty.
Léger considered the role of the artist to be a social one. Following the First World War, he had emerged from a period of Cubism with his own individual style, representing the world in terms of mechanical order. Even a simple still-life of pots and pans would be reduced to geometrical forms verging on abstraction. At that time, he was almost a propagandist trying to communicate a utopian vision of order to the world, especially the working class. In Des lettres dans un paysage, the stark, architectural shapes of the buildings are disrupted by the curves and colors around them, and through these contrasts emerge a new, humanized light. The radiant yellow, greens and blues of Des lettres dans un paysage are the colors of advertising and political propaganda posters. As such, they form the most perfect artistic vehicle to deliver his message to a wide populace in a visual language which they could easily understand. There is neither a hidden agenda, nor reliance on arcane symbols or intellectual processes, just an unadulterated celebration of life and the world. Léger utilized the cultural language of his modern audience, discarding and disregarding academic artistic methods. It is no coincidence that the letters in the painting's title seem to form a logo--a potent reminder of Léger's unique ability to act as a bridge between early and later 20th Century art, notably paving the way for Pop Art. Des lettres dans un paysage, with its combination of industrial, domestic and natural elements underscores Léger's intent to reveal the beauty inherent in even the harshest modern surroundings. The artist wrote:
"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 op. cit., p. 210).