Lot 9
  • 9

Fernand Léger

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Fernand Léger
  • signed F. Léger and dated 25 (lower right); signed F. Léger, dated 25 and titled on the reverse
  • oil on canvas

  • 65 by 50cm.
  • 25 1/2 by 19 3/4 in.


Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris
Hildur Nordin, Stockholm (acquired circa 1954)
Jean Aron, Paris
Private Collection, USA
Private Collection, Monaco
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, 13th May 1986, lot 53
Private Collection (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Phillip's, New York, 6th November 2000, lot 16)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Stockholm, Galerie Blanche, Fernand Léger, 1952, no. 31
Stockholm, Liljevalchs Konsthall, Från Cézanne till Picasso, 1954, no. 192
Stockholm, Galerie Blanche, Fernand Léger 1881-1955, 1955, no. 5
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Fernand Léger: Selected Works from a Private Collection, 1994, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, 1925-1928, Paris, 1993, no. 419, illustrated in colour p. 49


The canvas is not lined. There is a horizontal stretcher mark in the centre of the composition. Apart from three small spots of retouching on the lower centre edge visible under ultra-violet light, this work is in very good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although slightly more subtle in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Fernand Léger's Nature morte is an outstanding representation of the style with which he radically redeveloped the cubist aesthetic during the 1920s. The elegant composition is poised upon complex arrangements of geometric and highly stylized forms and wonderful colour combinations. The dynamism of his earlier mechanical motifs, that characterised his paintings of the 1910s, is retained in Nature morte, but the inclusion of the domestic objects at the centre of the scheme shows Léger's revival of figurative elements, which he reincorporated into his œuvre to add a more organic resonance (fig. 1). The shape of the glass and strong vertical lines of the composition echo the purism of classical architecture. He later recalled, 'I needed a rest, to breathe a little. After the dynamism of the mechanical phase, I felt, as it were, a need for the static quality of the large forms that were to follow... Later it developed, slowly, towards a more realistic, less schematic representation' (quoted in Jean Cassou & Jean Leymarie, Fernand Léger: Drawings and Gouaches, London, 1973, p. 47).

Writing about Léger's paintings from this period (figs. 1 & 2), Christopher Green commented: 'Between 1925 and 1927 Léger produced a series of masterpieces [...]. They are the product of a pictorial idea of the figure or object whose brutal 'plastic' simplicity is personal, but which is the product of an approach to the realities of modern life indelibly tinged with the idealism of L'Esprit Nouveau, an approach which remains stubbornly 'realist' but whose highly selective vision of the world picks out the most useful, the most geometrically 'pure', the most precisely finished of its manufactures, and subjects even the nude or the figurative fragment to the mass-production yet 'classical' values thus extracted. And in their grand, harmonious architecture with its clear articulation of spatial incident, these paintings are at the same time the product of an international avant-garde [...] Their assurance and the conviction they carry is founded on more than fifteen years of faith in what was then most modern about the industrial world, of openness to what was most new in the avant-garde and of experiment in book illustration, theatre and film as well as in painting' (C. Green, Léger and the Avant-Garde, 1976, New Haven & London, p. 310).

After the Great War Léger forged many influential friendships, such as with Le Corbusier, and in 1921 he met the de Stijl artists Théo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian. Although it cannot be doubted that discussions with these avant-garde artists provided stimulus, Léger stated that 'Purism never touched me; too meagre for me that thing, that closed world. But it was nonetheless necessary that it be done, that one go to that extreme' (quoted in Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1982, p. 35). The advances he made in the 1920s can be better ascribed to Léger's desire for aesthetic freedom from artistic conventional idiom; he explains that in 'about 1922-1924 architects had rid walls of the welter of ornamentation imposed on them by the taste of the 1900's. White walls began to appear, and both Delaunay and myself managed to liberate colour, too. Blue was no longer inevitably associated with the sky, nor green the trees. Pure tones became independent and could be used objectively' (quoted in Felix H. Man, Eight European Artists, London, 1954, p. 54).

Léger was an outspoken communicator of his artistic principles; he explains his essential aesthetic as: 'I apply the law of contrasts... I organize the opposition of contrasting values, lines, and curves. I oppose curves to straight lines, flat surfaces to molded forms, pure local colors to nuances of grey. These initial plastic forms are either superimposed on objective elements or not, it makes no difference to me. There is only a question of variety...' (quoted in Edward F. Fry (ed.), Fernand Léger: The Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, pp. 24-25), he went on to further propound that: 'Modern Man lives more and more in a preponderantly geometric order. All mechanical and industrial human creation is subject to geometric forces' (ibid., p. 52). These ideas are encapsulated by Nature morte, in which the reel of unwinding thread and typographical elements are surrounded by increasingly abstracted forms. In the present work Léger brilliantly combines art-deco gaiety with an intellectually profound exploration of visual aesthetics in the wake of Cubism.

Fig. 1, Fernand Léger, Parapluie et Chapeau Melon, 1926, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Fig. 2, Fernand Léger, Le Vase, 1925, oil on canvas, City of Aberdeen Art Gallery, Aberdeen

Fig. 3, Léger in his studio