- Fernand Léger
- COMPOSITION AU CITRON
- signed F. LEGER and dated 39 (lower right)
- oil on canvas
- 65 by 50cm.
- 25 5/8 by 19 3/4 in.
Galerie Tarica, Paris
Theodore Schempp, New York
James W. Alsdorf, Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago (acquired from the above in 1954 and until 1973)
Sale: Christie's, New York, 11th May 1988, lot 50
Painting in the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1961, illustrated p. 250
Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger. Catalogue raisonné, 1938-1943, Paris, 1998, no. 1037, illustrated in colour p. 99
This highly abstracted still-life with lemon dates from a period in Léger's career when he focused on painting objects in isolation from any contextual narrative. His interest had evolved from his involvement with the Purists in the 1920s, whose chief concern was celebrating the elegant simplicity of pared-down or 'pure' forms. By the late 1930s, Léger had taken this aesthetic objective a step further, seeking to appeal to the tastes of the general public. New Realism, as his style was called, was meant to equalise high and low culture by exalting the beauty of everyday objects. Léger referred to his compositions from the late 1930s collectively as the 'grand subject,' and hoped, as Caroline Lanchner explained, that the plastic beauty of his art 'could provide the masses with a sort of aesthetic relief' (C. Lanchner, Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), New York, 1998, p. 225). Léger attempted to achieve his objective by relying on the expressive power of bold colours, as we can see in the present picture from 1939. As Léger explained the year before he painted this composition, 'color is a vital necessity. It is raw material indispensable to life, like water and fire. Man's existence is inconceivable without an ambience of color' (quoted in ibid., p. 227).
Nature morte au citron of 1939 was formerly in the collection of the late James W. Alsdorf, a prominent Chicago businessman and patron of the arts. Alsdorf most likely acquired the painting directly from Theodore Schempp, a New York art dealer who worked frequently with Chicago collectors during the 1940s. Alsdorf's collection included several old master and modern European paintings, along with an extensive collection of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art. The present canvas remained with Alsdorf until 1954, when he donated it to the Art Institute of Chicago, where he would eventually serve as Chairman between 1975 and 1978.