- Fernand Léger
- Les Campeurs (1er État)
- Signed and dated F.LEGER.54 (lower right); titled, signed and dated F.LEGER.54 on the reverse
- Oil on canvas
- 64 by 51 1/4 in.
- 162.6 by 130.2 cm
Galerie Maeght, Paris (acquired from the artist)
Ira Haupt, New Jersey (sold: Parke-Bernet, New York, January 13, 1965, lot 30)
Nathan Cummings, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired by the present owner circa 1985
Paris, Maison de la Pensée Française, Fernand Léger: Oeuvres Recentes 1953-1954, 1954, no. 48
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Fernand Léger: Five Themes and Variations, 1962, no. 69
Tel Aviv, Musée de Tel Aviv, Pavillion H. Rubenstein, Léger, 1967
Vienna, Museum des 20. Jarhunderts, Léger, 1968
Paris, Musée Galleria, Fernand Léger, 1969
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971
Chicago, The Art Institute, 1973
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Fernand Léger, 1987, no. 49
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Léger, The Late Years, 1988, no. 51
The present work belongs to an important series of "country outing" pictures that Léger completed the year before he died. Inspired by Edouard Manet's famous Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1863 (see fig. 1), Léger's pictures featured characters enjoying their leisure time in the great outdoors. Léger was a life-long admirer of Manet, considering the artist one of the most important innovators in the history of art. Similar to Picasso's focus on the old masters in the 1950s, Léger was mindful of the artists of the past and decided to pay tribute to one of his favorites during these last few months of his life. This picture of campers is the first of two versions (see fig. 2) of this particular theme. Both compositions are related to another of Léger's pictures from this series, The Country Outing, (see fig 3), which directly references Manet's work.
Les Campeurs incorporates the solidly linear figures that had populated Léger's best work since the 1920s. Shape and form were primary concerns for the artist, but by the last years of his career he began to incorporate narrative into his highly-geometric compositions. In this picture, the juxtaposition of the curvilinear family against the architecturally detailed natural setting reveals the medley of shapes and forms that have become part of the contemporary landscape. Léger was fascinated with social progress, and the campers, construction workers, and circus performers that he painted in the 1950s celebrate the activities of modern life.
Concerning the constrasts inherent in these pictures from the 1950s, Léger said, "If I was able to approach very close to a realistic figuration, it was because the violent constrast between my workmen and the metal geometry in which they are set is at its maximum. Modern sculptures, whether social or other, are valid insofar as this law of contrasts is respected; otherwise one falls back on the classical picture of the Italian Renaissance" (quoted in Werner Schmalenbach, Fernand Léger, New York, 1976, p. 162).
Writing about the present work in comparison to The Country Outing in his monograph on the artist, Werner Schmalenbach has observed that "the red patch in the middle makes it more brilliant than the main version, which has several white areas. But quite apart from this, the coloring in general is brighter: the green plant in the foreground, the big yellow flower in the girl's hand, the ball, the cactus, and the tree -- green, not stone gray -- that towers up in the yellow sky. The contrast motifs have also been expanded, in particular by the iron landing stage and the telegraph mast; harking back to his early period, Léger has violated idyllic nature with the constructions of the technological age. The figures, matching the upright format of the canvas, are more erect than in The Country Outing and also less relaxed; they hold their objects like emblems. Even the children are depicted facing the spectator. What prevents this work from becoming a mere genre picture is the stereotype treatment of the faces. Still, they are more earthy and 'healthier,' less dreamy and unreal than the masklikes faces in The Country Outing, which have a touch of poetic enchantment" (ibid., p. 164).
Fig. 1, Edouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1863, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 2, Fernand Léger, Le Campeur, Couleur en dehours, 1943-54, oil on canvas
Fig. 3, Fernand Léger, The Country Outing, 1954, oil on canvas, Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence