Featuring a mélange of objects including a pipe, ball and boldly outlined silhouette, Composition à la pipe perfectly illustrates Léger’s aesthetic transition towards the close of the decade. Still lifes dominated Léger’s oeuvre in 1928, and recast the traditional genre as a glorification of the “object” over the classical subject. Liberated from the constraints of traditional perspective, the isolated objects of Composition à la pipe playfully float atop fragmented geometric planes. In drawing attention to the individualized objects within the composition Léger felt he could subvert the reign of the generically classicized subject. As the artist himself wrote, “The subject in painting had already been destroyed, just as the avant-garde film had destroyed the story-line. I thought that the object, which had been neglected and poorly exploited, was the thing to replace the subject” (ibid, p. 87).
This innovation had in part been sparked by Léger’s experimentation with new media. Film in particular resonated with the artist, which can be seen in the shadowy cinematic profile that dominates the left side of Composition à la pipe. Such imagery is featured in a number of key works from 1928 including Le Profil noir, each of which features the pictorial interplay of black and white. Surrealist artist Guillaume Apollinaire took Léger to his first Chaplin film at the Ciné Montparnasse in 1916, and the artist remained transfixed by what he saw. Newly inspired by the temporal capacity of the cinema, Léger released his first short film Ballet Mécanique alongside Dudley Murphy and Man Ray in 1924. Lacking a discernible narrative, the experimental film merged a series of closely-cropped vignettes of isolated, undulating machinery. Fetishizing both the machine and the unseen labor behind it, Ballet Mécanique would be screened in Paris, London and New York. Léger’s immersion in the world of avant-garde cinema is clearly reflected in his painting, which Jean Cassou and Jean Leymarie described as follows, “Léger’s objects have escaped from the domination of the subject, as they have from the pull of gravity; they invert or reject perspective, loop up or recede in the air, with the power and mystery of pictures in slow motion” (ibid, p. 99).
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