In the Contrastes de formes, he experimented radically with the plastic qualities of form, line and color, replacing basic components of the human anatomy or landscapes with geometric shapes, and retaining only two crucial elements of traditional visual representation – the construction of pictorial depth and the modelling of form using light and dark. In the works on paper, such as the present sheet, the rejection of color further enforced the radical nature of his technique, in a similar way Picasso and Braque had in their analytical cubist works. However, though considered a Cubist by his association with the two leading figures of the movement, Léger did not attempt to recreate a literal representation of objects in their totality as they had, but rather exclude objects in their entirety. Léger’s personal contribution to the movement developed in the Contrastes de formes was to further develop the dynamic possibilities inherent in trying to represent simultaneity, an aim held in common with his Futurist contemporaries Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini who celebrated the age of the machine and movement. Léger incorporated this mechanized aesthetic into his art in an attempt to reveal the vitality and beauty that was inherent in geometric form.
Taking Cézanne as a starting point and building on the innovations of Picasso and Braque, Léger created an entirely new abstract language. “Léger's early reputation rested upon the fact that he was able to develop his own version of Cubism, and one so original that it almost seemed as if it could have been invented without that of Picasso or Braque. Indeed so persuasive was the 'cubism' of Léger's, as it was called, that it alone probably would have insured him a place in the history of modern painting, even if he had not survived World War I... Like his contemporaries Picasso and Braque, Léger was enormously affected by and indebted to the art of Cézanne, whom he saw as a transitional figure between traditional and modern painting. It was Cézanne, Léger wrote in 1913 while he was painting the Contrastes de Formes pictures, who has 'understood everything that was incomplete in traditional painting' and who had 'felt the necessity for a new form and draftsmanship closely linked to the new color.' And it was Cézanne, Léger wrote the following year, who 'was the only one of the Impressionists to lay his finger on the deeper meaning of plastic life, because of his sensitivity to the contrasts of forms” (J. Flam in Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), Acquavella Galleries Inc., New York, 1987, p. 10).
In his essays of 1913 to 1923, Léger set out his pictorial aesthetic as epitomized in the Contrastes de formes series of 1913. Explaining Legér's aims and quoting from his essays, Dorothy Kosinski wrote: “One essential tenet of this aesthetic was the equation “Contrast = dissonance, [achieving] a maximum of expressive effect”. This was Legér's battle-cry against traditional notions of pictorial realism which were bound to sentiment, representation and popular expressions of the subject... For him, the dynamic dissonance of form, line and color was the delineation of, indeed, the direct result of, rupture and change in the modern world: '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'" (D. Kosinski, Fernand Léger, 1911-1924, The Rhythm of Modern Life, Munich & New York, 1994, p. 17).
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