After a period of working with abstract imagery, Léger returned to the use of realistic subjects for his paintings in the 1940s and '50s. Léger did not view this change as a rejection of the aims of abstraction, however, but rather as a way of continuing to pursue the aims of pure painting with a new vocabulary. Léger wrote in 1950, “New subjects, envisaged with the contribution of the freedoms that previous experimentation has offered, must emerge and establish themselves.” The goals were still the same, according to Léger, whether the image included objects form the everyday world or was completely abstract, “The plactic life, the picture, is made up of harmonious relationships among volumes, lines, and colors. These are the three forces that must govern works of art. If, in organizing 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 (as cited in Beth Handler’s contribution to (Fernand Léger, Museum of Modern Art, (exhibition catalogue) New York, 1998, p. 247).
Le compotier bleu is a wonderful example of the approach to painting that Léger described. Painted in 1948, this deceptively simple composition is actually a complex combination of the organic forms; the still life juxtaposed with a phytomorphic design. Léger also combines three-dimensional forms such as the solid blue vase with more organic devices that serve to heighten the viewer's visual experience. There is no device that grounds either the compotier or the branches, but instead a neutral gray field suspends the composition that moves seamlessly from background to the first plane of the viewer.
The elements in the present work at first glance seem to be related to conventional still-life subjects. However, they are not used in a traditional manner and defy categorization and perspective. They appear to lie directly on the picture plane, floating above the gray background. As Léger explained, "I placed objects in space so that I could not place an object on a table without diminshing its value. I selected an object, chucked the table away. I put the object in space, minus the perspective. Minus anything to hold it there. I then had to liberate the color to an even greater extent" (Dora Vallier, 'La vie fait l'oeuvre de Fernand Léger,' Cahier d'Arts, no. 2, Paris, 1954, pp. 152-153).
Fig. 1 Fernand Léger in his studio, 1945
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