Lot 6
  • 6

Fernand Léger

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  • Fernand Léger
  • Signed and dated F LÉGER 19 (lower right); signed, titled and inscribed Léger, Le disque rouge, 11-19, 2me Etat on the reverse
  • Oil on canvas
  • 36 1/4 by 25 3/4 in.
  • 92 by 54 cm


Galerie de l’Effort Moderne (Léonce Rosenberg), Paris
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Louis Carré, Paris (by 1954)
Phillipe Dotremont, Brussels
Wallace Harrison, New York
Harold Diamond, New York
Seward Johnson, Princeton
Barbara Piasecka Johnson, Princeton
Acquired from the above in 1983


Paris, Louis Carré, Le Paysage dans l’Oeuvre de Léger, 1954, no. 19
Lyon, Musée de Lyon, Fernand Léger, 1955, no. 15
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition, 1979


Douglas Cooper, Fernand Léger et le nouvel espace, Geneva, 1949, illustrated p. 78
Bradley Nickels, Fernand Léger: Paintings and Drawings 1905-1930 (microfilm version), Ann Arbor, 1966, no. VII-37, illustrated p. 240
Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint 1903-1919, Paris, 1990, no. 154, illustrated p. 275

Catalogue Note

Le disque rouge was painted in 1919, the same year as the most monumental of Léger’s post-war paintings, La ville (see fig. 1). Immediately prior to the war, Léger had evolved a style in his Contraste de Formes series that verged on abstraction but his experience in the trenches made him feel that this was no longer adequate to express his feelings about modern life. Much later he explained how this had happened: “It was those four years [of World War I] which threw me suddenly into a blinding reality that was entirely new to me… Suddenly I found myself on an equal footing with the whole French people. Posted to the sappers, my new comrades were miners, laborers, artisans who worked in wood or metal. I discovered the people of France. And at the same time I was suddenly stunned by the sight of the open breach of a .75 cannon in full sunlight, confronted with the play of light on white metal. It needed nothing more than this for me to forget the abstract art of 1912-13” (Fernand Léger, in Arts, Paris, 1949).

After he was discharged from the army in 1917, Léger turned to life in the rapidly industrializing modern city as the subject matter of his paintings. After celebrating specific events, such as the annual commemoration of the French Revolution in Le 14 Juillet à Vernon and the end of the war in L’Armistice, he painted a series of works on more generic modern themes. In these depictions of the Cirque Medrano, mechanical and industrial forms (Le moteur, Les hélices, Les usines, Les pistons) as well as in an extended sequence of works painted in 1918-19, the form of a disk is the principal element. In two large compositions of 1918 – Les disques (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, see fig. 2) and Les disques (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, see fig. 3) – Léger  showed his ability to work on a monumental scale, maintaining a fine balance between the abstract strength of the Contraste de Formes series and references to contemporary urban life.

In the present work, the disk is one element among many abstract forms, vertical, horizontal and diagonal bands of color, spheres and less clearly definable shapes that coexist with glimpses of modern urban architecture and the anonymous citizens who animate it. The work of this period has been memorably described by John Golding: “Now, at the height of his powers, he rendered architectural the compositional effects of synthetic Cubism to give definitive form to all that had been most positive, from a visual point of view, in the Futurist programme………From synthetic Cubism Léger  adapted a form of composition that relied for its effects on a surface organization in terms of predominantly upright, vertical areas, often tendered now in unmodulated colour. Mechanical, tubular forms, like great shafts of metal, appear with frequency, but these are now tied into, and indeed made subsidiary to a flatter treatment of the picture surface; the colored shapes tip and tilt, fanning out towards the edges of the canvas, only to meet opposing forces which tie them back again tightly into the overall, jazz-like rhythms of the composition. The bright raw colours call to each other across the surface of the canvas, pulling it taut like a drum. The vitality of the forms is such that at times they appear to advance towards us, so that we seem to share, palpably, in the painting’s beat. Some areas become cells in space, in which we glimpse the life of the city’s inhabitants; others are broken by letters, like fragments of giant billboards, while their harsh, dry imagery is thrown into relief by the contrasting, swirling, circular bands of colour. Never has the poetry of the first machine age been so grandly and proudly exalted” (John Golding, “Léger and the Heroism of Modern Life,” in Léger and Purist Paris (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London, 1970 - 71, p. 12)


Fig. 1, Fernand Léger , La Ville, 1919, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art, A. E. Gallatin collection


Fig. 2, Fernand Léger , Les disques, 1918, oil on canvas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art


Fig. 3, Fernand Léger , Les disques, 1918, oil on canvas, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris


Fig. 4, Postcard that Léger sent to his friends, featuring the discs of the urban landscape