Lot 36
  • 36

Fernand Léger

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 GBP
2,333,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Fernand Léger
  • Nature morte
  • signed F. Léger and dated 27 (lower right); signed F. Léger, dated 27 and titled on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 92 by 65cm.
  • 36 1/4 by 25 3/4 in.


Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired from the artist in 1927)

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Berlin, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Fernand Léger, 1928

Copenhagen, Kunstforeningen, Fernand Léger Udstilling, 1951, no. 10

London, Marlborough Fine Arts Ltd., Fernand Léger, Paintings, Drawings, Lithographs, Ceramics, 1955, no. 8

Tel Aviv, Tel-Aviv Museum, Pavilion H. Rubenstein, Fernand Léger, 1967, no. 9

Paris, Galerie Berggruen, F. Léger, huiles, aquarelles et dessins, 1975, no. 16, illustrated in the catalogue

Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporanéo,  Fernand Léger, 1905-1955, 1982, no. 22, illustrated in the catalogue

Paris, Grand Palais, Sidney Janis Gallery at the FIAC, 1984, no. 22, illustrated in the catalogue

Paris, Galerie Louise Leiris, F. Léger, 55 œuvres 1913-1953, 1985, no. 15, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Paris, Grand Palais, Salon d’Automne, 1986, no. 106

Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, 2002-03, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Paris, Galerie Daniel Malingue, F. Léger (1881-1955), 2009, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger Catalogue Raisonné 1925-1928, Paris, 1993, no. 515, illustrated in colour p. 211

Catalogue Note

In 1927 Léger executed several compositions on the subject of a still-life featuring a bunch of grapes and a fish, combined with abstract, geometrically shaped elements. Merging the traditionally opposed manners of figurative and abstract painting, in Nature morte Léger created a dynamic composition that juxtaposes sculptural and decorative forms usually found in Léger’s still-lifes, with abstract forms such as the target and the engorged serpentine shape in the centre. The artist painted the elements of the composition in different manners, with the flat, patterned arrangement of court shoes on the left contrasting with the lightly modulated female bust, thus emphasising the conceit of the artist’s two-dimensional picture plane. Léger revisited this composition later in 1927, and entitled the larger canvas Composition à la tete rouge. This painting is now in the Kunstmuseum Basel and is sometimes referred to as Nature-morte au serpent, la figure rouge (fig. 1).


The elegant and clearly delineated composition of  Nature morte points to the impact of the Purism of Ozenfant and Le Corbusier on Léger’s painting during this time. A search for classical beauty and balance that characterised the so-called rappel à l’ordre influenced many avant-garde artists working in Europe in the aftermath of the First World War. During this time Léger focused his creative output on the still-life genre, combining everyday objects with elements of the natural world (fig. 2). The elegant female bust evokes the primitive elegance of Modigliani’s celebrated sculptures carved in the years before the Great War (fig. 3). Executed in large areas of single pigments, the work encapsulates Léger’s belief in the key role of pure colour in his painting. Rather than representing a likeness of the world that surrounds him, the artist uses overlapping patches of colour as the principal element of the composition, creating new spatial relationships within the two-dimensional plane of the canvas. The legacy of Léger’s exploration of pictorial space can be found in the works of the Pop artist’s, such as Roy Lichtenstein, who paid homage to Léger’s influence in a series of paintings that included key motifs and images from his art (fig. 4).


Writing about Léger’s works of 1927, Douglas Cooper observed: ‘Gradually he exchanged the monumental for the living. The architectural elements disappeared and were replaced by scattered objects setting up a rhythm between themselves, while the space in which they moved was created by pushing the objects into the foreground and setting up a play of colours in the background. The objects are related to each other by means of carefully controlled chromatic values, by similar or opposing rhythms and by the use of lines of direction which weave in and out through the whole composition. Léger places his objects at just the right distance from each other: they are held there by virtue of the laws of harmony and rhythm’ (D. Cooper, Fernand Léger et le nouvel espace, London, 1949, p. XIV). In the present composition, Léger achieved this sense of rhythm through a juxtaposition of circular, straight and diagonal lines and a bright palette, set against a dark monochromatic background.


Léger himself explained the abstract element of his painting: ‘The realistic value of a work of art is completely independent of any imitative character. This truth should be accepted as dogma and made axiomatic in the general understanding of painting. [...] Pictorial realism is the simultaneous ordering of three great plastic components: Lines, Forms and Colours. [...] the modern concept is not a reaction against the impressionists' idea but is, on the contrary, a further development and expansion of their aims through the use of methods they neglected. [...] Present-day life, more fragmented and faster moving than life in previous eras, has had to accept as its means of expression an art of dynamic divisionism; and the sentimental side, the expression of the subject (in the sense of popular expression), has reached a critical moment. [...] The modern conception is not simply a passing abstraction, valid only for a few initiates; it is the total expression of a new generation whose needs it shares and whose aspirations it answers’ (quoted in Dorothy Kosinski (ed.), Fernand Léger, 1911-1924, The Rhythm of Modern Life, Munich & New York, 1994, pp. 66-67).