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Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

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New York

Fernand Léger
1881 - 1955
LES PÊCHEURS
Signed F. Léger and dated 21 (lower right); signed F. Léger, dated 21 and titled on the reverse
Oil on canvas
18 1/2 by 24 1/2 in.
47 by 62.5 cm
Painted in 1921.
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Provenance

Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris

Mayor Galleries, London (acquired from the above)

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (acquired from the above)

R.S. Johnson International Galleries, Chicago

Acquired from the above in 1950

Exhibited

Chicago, R. Stanley Johnson Fine Art, Fernand Léger1881-1955, Retrospective Exhibition, 1966, no. 17, illustrated p. 23

Literature

Pierre Descargues, Fernand Léger, Paris, 1955, illustrated p. 62

Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue Raisonné, 1920-1925, Paris, 1992, no. 277, illustrated in color p. 135

Catalogue Note

Les Pêcheurs belongs to a series of five important paintings on the theme of fishermen painted in 1921 and is closely related to the version now housed at the Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt. Celebrated among the Parisian avant-garde as one of the original Cubists, along with Picasso and Braque, Léger’s painting had taken a new direction after the war. By the 1920s, the severe abstraction of his pre-war compositions gave way to streamlined figuration, and his paintings more often depicted the human form against a backdrop of the booming industrial era. What Léger had witnessed on the battlefront had forced him to re-prioritize his artistic objective so that clarity of form, or respect for modern life, would reign supreme in his compositions. "I had broken down the human body, so I set about putting it together again," Leger would recall of this period.  "I wanted a rest, a breathing space.  After the dynamism of the mechanical period, I felt a need for the stativity of large figures" (quoted in Fernand Léger, Man in the New Age (exhibition catalogue), Arken Museum of Modern Art, 2005, p. 20).

Léger’s highly mechanized rendering of three men fishing in Les Pêcheurs exemplifies the stylistic refinement and sleek, linear sophistication that characterized the era. Léger was renowned for his earlier series paintings, such as Contrastes de formes in the 1910s, in which he stripped down each element of structure to its bare essence of color and form. In Les Pêcheurs, however, the juxtaposition of the curvilinear figures against the architecturally detailed natural setting exemplifies the artist’s new preoccupation with the medley of shapes and forms that had become part of the modern landscape. There is a pronounced contrast between the figures, which are rendered in a sequence of volumetric curved forms of unified color, and the staccato geometrical rhythms of the background, which owe much to the influence of the De Stijl artists Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. It is Léger’s treatment of the relationship between the figures in the present work that truly differentiates it from the other paintings in the series, however; whereas the figures of the two fishermen in Les Deux pêcheurs, also in the Stone Collection, are modelled in the same burnished yellow so that the relationship between them is not always distinct, here the steely gray central figure is set in clear contrast against the darker earthy tones of his companions. Similarly, where the trees in Les Deux pêcheurs are dramatically cropped so that all we can see of them are broad swathes of green to represent the trunks, here Léger articulates their spindly branches almost organically, adding a remarkable sense of movement.

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

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New York