Lot 5
  • 5

Fernand Léger

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 GBP
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  • Fernand Léger
  • La Femme couchée
  • signed F. Léger and dated 20 (lower right); signed F. Léger, titled La femme couchée Ie état and dated 20 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 50.5 by 65cm.
  • 19 7/8 by 25 5/8 in.


Galerie Simon (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris

Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (acquired by 1951)

Mr & Mrs Oscar Kolin, New York (acquired from the above in 1971 and until at least 1995)

Pace Wildenstein, New York

Private Collection, United States (acquired by 2001)

Sale: Christie's, London, 21st June 2005, lot 37

Private Collection, Europe (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 7th November 2007, lot 31)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Three Modern Styles, 1949

New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Early Léger, 1951, no. 14

New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Léger: Major Themes, 1957, no. 14, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Reclining Figure (Motive for Breakfast))

New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, European Artists A-V, 1961, illustrated in the catalogue

Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art & Grenoble, Musée de Grenoble, L'Esprit Nouveau: Purism in Paris, 1918-1925, 2001-02, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Sixth Exhibition of Paintings by Fernand Léger, Selected from the Years 1918-1954 (exhibition catalogue), Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1960-61, figs. 33 & 36, illustrated in photographs of the 1957 exhibition

Exhibition of Paintings by Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1984, fig. C, illustrated in a photograph of the 1951 exhibition p. 41

Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, 1920-1924, Paris, 1992, no. 242, illustrated p. 86


The canvas is unlined. Apart from some spots of retouching in the white pigment to the four corners and above the green glass, and one spot of retouching in the yellow pigment at upper centre, visible under ultra-violet light, this work is in very good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although stronger and brighter in the original. In particular the purple tones of the figure are more pronounced 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

Painted in 1920, during one of the most innovative and productive periods in Léger’s career, La Femme couchée belongs to an important group of oils depicting one or several women in an interior. Léger probably began this series with the present composition showing a single female reclining figure with a table holding various objects in front of her, and later introduced one or two standing figures accompanying the reclining one, culminating in the celebrated Le Grand déjeuner of 1921 (fig. 2). Starting from this traditional genre, Léger transformed it into a complex and radically modern composition of fragmented shapes and bright colours. The figures and objects are broken into curved, geometric forms set against a grid of horizontal and vertical lines in the background.

From Titian and Velázquez to Ingres and Renoir, the theme of the reclining woman had been one of the constant preoccupations of the greatest figure painters. After a decade disrupted by World War I during which time Léger found inspiration in the mechanisation of society, he was ready for a change. As he remarked: ‘I had broken the human body, so I set about putting it together again and rediscovering the human face... I wanted a rest, a breathing space. After the dynamism of the mechanical period, I felt a need for the staticity of figures.’ In part this change in subject matter may be attributed to the inner dynamics of Léger's own situation as he sought to rediscover a sense of equilibrium that had been suppressed during the preceding tumultuous decade. There were also broader cultural currents influencing this change of emphasis, notably the deliberate return to classicism epitomised in Jean Cocteau's call for a rappel à l'ordre ('return to order'), as well as the reductive compositions of the Purism of Ozenfant and Le Corbusier.

Discussing Léger’s series of reclining women, Christopher Green wrote: ‘The story of the development of Le Grand Déjeuner follows the sates of Léger’s move from a mechanical to a classical figure style, and from an occasionally unstable ambiguity to an always stable clarity of statement. Perhaps the earliest oils directly related to Le Grand Déjeuner are a pair of reclining nudes, of which the small Femme couchée dated 1920 is one [and the present work the other]. The simple clash between flat rectangular planes and curved metallic surfaces modelled in relief repeats the simple, forceful theme of Le Mécanicien, but as yet Léger does not overtly refer by the shaping of his figurative forms to a classical past and he sets his hefty mechanical nude, like the barges of his 1918 Remorqueur paintings, in rolling lateral movement across the verticals and horizontals of her scaffolded surroundings’ (C. Green, Léger and the Avant-Garde, New York, 1976, p. 223).

The figure in the present work, rendered in a sequence of volumetric curved forms drained of colour, stands in pronounced contrast with the rectangular rhythm of the background, which echoes the contemporaneous development of abstraction in the art of De Stijl painters Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. Léger himself described the increasing level of abstraction in 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 [...]. 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 Fernand Léger 1911-1924: The Rhythm of Modern Life (exhibition catalogue), Kunstmuseum, Wolfsburg & Kunstmuseum, Basel, 1994, pp. 66-67).