120
120

THE COLLECTION OF ALEX & ELISABETH LEWYT

Fernand Léger
LE SOLDAT À VERDUN
Estimate
40,00060,000
LOT SOLD. 161,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
120

THE COLLECTION OF ALEX & ELISABETH LEWYT

Fernand Léger
LE SOLDAT À VERDUN
Estimate
40,00060,000
LOT SOLD. 161,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

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New York

Fernand Léger
1881 - 1955
LE SOLDAT À VERDUN
Signed F Leger, dated 13-10-16 and inscribed le 100 de Marine Verdun (upper left)
Pen and ink on a military postcard
5 1/2 by 3 1/2 in.
14 by 8.9 cm
Executed on October 13, 1916.
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Provenance

Douglas Cooper, Argilliers
Acquired from the above in 1956

Literature

Douglas Cooper, Fernand Léger: Dessins de Guerre, 1915-1916, Paris, 1956, no. 35, illustrated pl. 35

Catalogue Note

Mobilized in August 1914 at the age of thirty-three, Fernand Léger’s experience of World War I was to have a profound effect on both his life and work. As he later recalled, "Paris was in a period of pictorial liberation and I was up to my ears in abstraction when I left. Suddenly I found myself on an equal footing with the whole French people; assigned to an engineering corps, my new comrades were miners, landscapers, iron- and wood-workers. I discovered the people of France there. And it was there that I was dazzled by the sight of the open breech of a .75 canon in full sunlight, the magic of the light on the white metal. That was all it took for me to forget the abstract art of 1912-13. It came as a complete revelation to me, both as a man and as a painter. Around me were men of such humor, such richness. Varied types of men who were so exemplary, they had an exacting sense of utilitarian reality and of its timely use in the midst of the life-and-death drama into which we had all been plunged. More than that: they were poets, inventors of everyday poetic imagery; by which I mean the slang, so fluid, so colorful. 'In Verdun, we make our beds with a shovel.' [...] I wanted my work as a painter and the imagery that would emerge from that work to be as tough as their slang, to have the same direct precision" (quoted in "Que signifie: être témoin de son temps?" in Arts, no. 205, March 11, 1949).

Since paint and canvas were hard to obtain at the front, Léger produced ink and pencil sketches such as the present work whenever possible, sometimes even piecing together collages of torn paper onto the back of empty ammunition boxes. He drew his subjects from his new and chaotic surroundings. The scale of World War I had created a completely different relationship between men and machines, and close daily contact with artillery pieces began to alter Léger’s own perception: “I felt the body of metal in my hands and allowed my eye to stroll in and around the reality of objects. I thought back again on my first abstract studies and a quite different idea concerning the means, the use and the application of abstract art took root in my mind” (quoted in André Verdet, Fernand Léger et le dynamism pictural, Geneva, 1955).

Executed on a military postcard in October 1916 at Verdun, where Léger was serving as a stretcher-bearer and the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war, Le Soldat à Verdun depicts a soldier at rest, leaning against the obusier—or howitzer, a cannon with a comparatively short barrel that was used for firing shells at steep angles—that he manned. The artist’s treatment of volume and the figure in particular presages that of his most celebrated paintings of the period, Soldier with a Pipe (1916) (see fig. 1) and The Card Players (1917), both of which were executed away from the trenches whilst the artist was on leave or convalescing, and marks the beginning of Léger’s "mechanical period," during which the figures and objects he painted were characterized by sleekly rendered tubular and machine-like forms.

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

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New York