Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

New York

Fernand Léger
1881 - 1955
Signed F. Léger (lower right); signed F. Léger, dated 1921 and titled on the reverse
Oil on canvas
25 1/2 by 35 3/4 in.
65 by 91 cm
Painted in 1921.
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Galerie Simon, Paris

Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris

R.S. Johnson International Galleries, Chicago

Acquired from the above in 1951


Chicago, R. Stanley Johnson Fine Art, Fernand Léger1881-1955, Retrospective Exhibition, 1966, no. 18, illustrated p. 22

New York, Acquavella Galleries, Fernand Léger, 1987, no. 26, illustrated p. 51



Andre Verdet, Fernand Léger: le dynamisme pictural, Geneva, 1955, p. 24

Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger Catalogue Raisonné 1920-1924, Paris, 1992, no. 281, illustrated p. 141

Catalogue Note

Les Deux pêcheurs was created at the dawning of the Roaring Twenties. The picture exemplifies the stylistic refinement and sleek, linear sophistication that characterized the era. Léger’s highly mechanized rendering of two fishermen standing on the bank of a river is one of his most compelling renditions of the theme. Léger was renowned for his series paintings, from his Contrastes de formes in the 1910s to his Acrobates of the 1940s, and the five great paintings of fisherman executed in 1921 are amongst his most recognizable works. The present work is a particularly superb example of the stylistic themes that dominate this period of his career and a standard bearer of the streamlined, Modernist aesthetic that defined the avant-garde movement known as Purism during the early 1920s.

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). 

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

New York