Galerie Louis Carré, Paris
Jean Piaubert, Paris
Pierina de Gavardie, Paris (acquired from the above and sold: Christie's, London, June 25, 2002, lot 17)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
New York, Valentine Gallery, New Paintings, 1945, no. 7
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Fernand Léger 1912-1948, 1948, no. 14
Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, La Figure dans l'ueuvre de Fernand Léger, 1952, no. 13
Tokyo, Galeries Seibu; Nagoya, Galeries Meitetsu & Fukuoka, Centre Culturel, Rétrospective Fernand Léger, 1972, no .61, illustrated in the catalogue
André Maurois & Fernand Léger, La Figure dans l'Oeuvre de Léger. Paris, 1945, illustrated in color
"Fernand Léger: Oeuvres Exécutées aux Etats Unis," Cahiers d'Art, Paris, 1945-46, a detail illustrated p. 379
Gilles Néret, Léger, Paris, 1990, no. 360, ilulstrated p. 249
Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue Raisonné de l'Oeuvre Peint vol. VII (1944-1948), Paris, 2000, no. 1181, illustrated p. 53
Les Quatres personnages (2ème esquisse), painted in 1944 while Léger living in the United States, marks what would become the artist's definitive style after the Second World War. Composed mainly of large blocks of primary colors, the picture encapsulates Léger's belief that "Truth in painting is color at its fullest: red, black, yellow since pure tones in paintings is reality." This philosophy governed the color palette for the present work, in which bold patches of color provide a backdrop of the composition's figural elements.
This picture is one of several oil variations on the theme of cyclists that Léger completed in 1944-45, leading up to his La Grande Julie, 1945, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. The positions of the figures change with each composition, but the general structural principle remains consistent throughout. The series explores the interlacing of animate and inanimate forms in order to create an entirely unified composition. Léger explained his stylistic objective for his paintings of this period in the following terms: "I've separated color from drawing and liberated it from shape by arranging it in large color fields without forcing it to follow the outlines of objects" (quoted in Fernand Léger, Paris-New York (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, 2008, p. 98).
The year after he painted the present work, Léger told the Museum of Modern Art curator James Johnson Sweeney that his series of cyclists were inspired by the types of people he saw in the United States: "Girls in sweaters...in shorts dressed more like acrobats in a circus than one would ever come across on a Paris street. If I had only seen girls dressed in 'good taste' here I would have never painted by Cyclist series, of which La Grande Julie in the Museum was the culmination" (quoted in ibid. p. 93).
At the end of the war, Léger prepared to return to Paris and informed his dealer of his recent progress. Writing to Louis Carré in May 1945, he describes "a series of paintings I call Paysages américains, which includes Les Cyclistes" (quoted in ibid., p. 99) The present picture, which eventually came to Carré in Paris, is indeed one of his souvenirs from his wartime exile in America.
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