While living in the United States during the war, Léger focused on expressive depictions of figures in action and delighted in depicting the curvature of their bodies and the solidity of their features. Much of the inspiration for these figures was derived from watching female entertainers, including dancers and circus performers. Katherine Kuh wrote about Léger’s attraction to the theme of female entertainers, noting that they offered him a subject out of his ordinary realm of existence: “Léger has always been attracted by popular places of entertainment, finding excellent raw material for his paintings in burlesque shows, dance halls and circuses. In this connection he says, ‘I did not frequent popular dance halls and the people’s quarters out of snobbism. I used to go there because I had a real liking for the fellows and the girls of the district… The fifteen-cent burlesque shows of Chicago still offer material. It is only for the artist to select…’” (K. Kuh, Léger, Urbana, 1953, p. 64).
Acrobats in particular were a beloved motif for Léger. Peter de Francia examines this more closely: “The subject of acrobats, circuses, of the grouping together of those themes of leisure which Léger had always envisaged as the tangible symbols of man's freedom, are to be found in the very beginning of his work and throughout his paintings: Les Acrobates dans le cirque of 1918, Les Deux acrobats of 1921, Les Danseuses acrobats of 1930, Les Acrobates aux perroquets of 1936 and Les Saltimbanques of 1939-40” (P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven & London, 1983, p. 248).
Composition au cheval blanc exemplifies Léger's firm commitment to a populist aesthetic and his fascination with the expressive potential of color – the two defining stylistic factors of his work during the last decade of his life. Here he has rendered the pictorial elements with a sharp clarity that is characteristic of his mature work, and he articulates the contours with bold, black lines. The colors, in keeping with his works of this period, are fully saturated and dynamic. Portrayed against a chromatically-limited background, the figures achieve a monumental presence.
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