Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale


Fernand Léger
1881 - 1955
signed F. Léger and dated 20 (lower right); signed F. Léger, dated 20 and inscribed esquisse on the reverse
oil on canvas
46 by 65cm.
18 1/8 by 25 5/8 in.
Painted in 1920.
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Galerie Simon, Paris

Roger Dutilleul, Paris

Jean Masurel, France (by descent from the above in 1956)

Private Collection, France (by descent from the above in 1991)

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Paris, Grand Palais, Fernand Léger, 1971-72, no. 50, illustrated in the catalogue (with incorrect measurements)

Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts & Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Arts, Léger’s Le Grand Déjeuner, 1980, no. 2, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger. Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint, 1920-1924, Paris, 1992, no. 250, illustrated in colour p. 96 (with incorrect measurements)

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1920, one of the most innovative and productive periods in Léger’s career, Trois femmes belongs to an important group of oils depicting one or several female figures in an interior setting. Léger probably began this series with a composition showing a single female reclining figure with a table holding various objects in front of her, and later introduced one or two standing figures accompanying the reclining one (fig. 1). As he developed this idea he eventually added more detail of the objects and the interior surrounding the figures, culminating in the celebrated Le Grand déjeuner of 1921 (fig. 2). Starting from this traditional genre, Léger transformed it into a complex and radically modern composition of fragmented shapes rendered in a reduced palette that evokes his earlier mechanical style.


In Trois femmes, as in the other works from this series, the figures and objects are broken into curved, geometric forms set against a grid of horizontal and vertical lines of the background. Some are recognisable objects such as the table with a cup and a pitcher, while others are highly abstracted geometric forms. The women’s features are fragmented almost to the point of abstraction, devoid of any expression of personality, as the artist was interested in them as part of the composition, rather than in depicting them as individuals. This highly innovative, modernist approach, beautifully exemplified by the present work, places Léger’s work of this period at the forefront of the European avant-garde. Christopher Green discussed Léger’s art from this period, comparing it to Picasso’s treatment of figures in his Synthetic Cubist works:

‘Picasso’s fragmentary use of simple signs for eyes, hands and guitar compares with Léger’s simplified use of features, and so too does the way his complex, overlapping structure of planes breaks down the figurative coherence of his subject, but this latter destructive process is far more radically violent as Léger applies it. Where Picasso works almost entirely in terms of flat planes, doted, striped and coloured differently to create a varied but stylistically united result, Léger works in terms both of flat contrasting planes and of modelled elements, using the staccato effects of interruption developed during the previous two years to create a stylistically disunited result’ (C. Green, Léger and the Avant-Garde, New Haven & London, 1976, p. 197).

The three figures in the present work, rendered in a sequence of volumetric curved forms drained of colour, stand in pronounced contrast with the rectangular rhythm of the background, which echoes the contemporaneous development of abstraction in the art of De Stijl painters Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. Léger himself described the increasing level of abstraction in his painting: ‘The realistic value of a work of art is completely independent of any imitative character. This truth should be accepted as dogma and made axiomatic in the general understanding of painting [...] Pictorial realism is the simultaneous ordering of three great plastic components: Lines, Forms and Colours [...] the modern concept is not a reaction against the impressionists' idea but is, on the contrary, a further development and expansion of their aims through the use of methods they neglected [...] Present-day life, more fragmented and faster moving than life in previous eras, has had to accept as its means of expression an art of dynamic divisionism; and the sentimental side, the expression of the subject (in the sense of popular expression), has reached a critical moment [...] The modern conception is not simply a passing abstraction, valid only for a few initiates; it is the total expression of a new generation whose needs it shares and whose aspirations it answers’ (quoted in Dorothy Kosinski (ed.), Fernand Léger, 1911-1924, The Rhythm of Modern Life, Munich & New York, 1994, pp. 66-67).



Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale