Acquired from the above in 1951
Stylistically, Les Deux pêcheurs is a work that encompasses the formal principles of high Modernism and introduces the themes that would dominate Léger’s paintings in the years to come. The subject of working men situated in a landscape, whether rural—as seen in the present work—or urban, is a theme that Léger returned to throughout his career, culminating in the magnificent Constructeurs series of the 1950s. The Cubist idioms and trademark 'éléments méchaniques' style that characterizes Léger's works of this period, with its insistence upon the purity of primary color and a machinist aesthetic, can be seen here to full effect. Large geometric forms are stacked against each other, creating the appearance of smoothness and flatness while maintaining depth through the dynamic interplay of shapes and forms. Throughout this period, Léger experimented with degrees of abstraction, compartmentalizing and reconfiguring the bodies but never losing sight of their defining silhouettes. As with many of Leger’s works from the early 1920s, the smooth circles and soft curves of the figures in the present work are contrasted by the straight edges and rectangles that compose the background (fig. 1).
There were also broader cultural currents influencing this change of emphasis, notably the deliberate return to classicism epitomized in Jean Cocteau's call for a Rappel à l'ordre (Return to Order). In his writing on Léger’s paintings of the early 1920s, Robert Herbert notes that the artist’s move away from the severe abstraction of his pre-war compositions towards figurative scenes such as Les Deux pêcheurs “reflects Léger’s urge towards a new classicism; by taking up a theme sanctioned by tradition, he hoped to integrate art history, as well as past time, into the present” (Robert Herbert, Léger’s Le Grand Déjeuner, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, Detroit, 1980, p. 13).
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