Lot 23
  • 23

Fernand Léger

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD
5,877,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Fernand Léger
  • Clowns et chevaux 
  • Signed F. Léger and dated 54 (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas


E. Tériade, Paris

Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris (acquired from the above)

Acquired from the above in 1983


Paris, Grand Palais, Fernand Léger, 1971-72, no. 238, illustrated in the catalogue

Paris, Galerie Daniel Malingue, Maîtres impressionnistes et modernes, no. 21 

Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Fernand Léger, no. 81, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Lawrence Saphire, Fernand Léger, The Complete Graphic Work, New York, 1978, illustrated p. 273

Georges Bauquier, Irus Hansma & Claude Lefebvre du Preÿ, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint 1954-1955, Paris, 2013, no. 1954, illustrated p. 16 

Catalogue Note

Léger's large-scale canvas Clowns et chevaux exemplifies the aesthetic that would dominate his production during the last year of his life, when acrobatic figures appeared animated in his works by swathes of bold color.  Léger once explained this liberal approach to color as it applies to this series:  "You are talking to someone and all of a sudden he becomes blue," he said.  "As soon as that colour fades another comes and he turns red or yellow.  That kind of color, projected color, is free; it exists in space.  I wanted to have the same thing in my canvases" (quoted in Simon Willmoth, "Léger in America" in Fernand Léger: The Late Years (exhibition catalogue), London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1987-88, p. 51).

Clowns et chevaux directly relates to Léger's well-known series of pictures from the 1950s entitled  La Grande parade.  Figures in these compositions are variously juxtaposed beside climbing acrobats, horses, and wheels. For Léger, performance and the circus was a passion: "If I have drawn circus people, acrobats, clowns, jugglers, it is because I have taken an interest in their work for thirty years... A year elapsed between the first state of The Great Parade and its final state. This interval corresponds to a lengthy process of elaboration and synthesis. The slightest transformation was long pondered and worked up with the help of new drawings. A local alteration often involved changing the entire composition because it affected the balance of the whole" (ibid., p. 126).

Clowns et chevaux 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 contrast 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).