- Fernand Léger
- Les Hommes dans la ville
- Signed F. Léger and dated 19 (lower right); titled Les Hommes dans la ville, signed F.Léger and dated 19 on the reverse
- Oil on canvas
- 25 1/2 by 21 1/4 in.
- 65 by 54 cm
Sidney Janis, New York
Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf
Private Collection, Munich (acquired from the above)
Acquired by descent from the above in 1983
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Architectonic Composition, 1997
Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, 2002-03, no. 75, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Denmark, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Fernand Léger, Man in the New Age, 2006, no. 13, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Nice, Musée Chagall; Biot, Musée National Fernand Léger & Vallauris, Musée Picasso, Dis-Moi, Blaise, Léger, Chagall, Picasso et Blaise Cendrars, 2009, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Georges Bauquier, Férnand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1903-1919, Paris, 1990, no. 164, illustrated in color p. 293
The present painting celebrates urban life, as it is transformed by the fragmentation of objects and space. Léger's concentration on a spectrum of primary colors avoids the transitions of light and shadows that indicate volume and spatial relationships, emphasizing the layered, two-dimensional character of the composition. Léger's new conception of his painted surface involved the ability to depict the fragmented immediacy of objects; the frenetic simultaneity of modern life.
Léger's composition here consists of many decontextualized machine elements, vertical, horizontal and diagonal bands of color, spheres and less clearly definable shapes that coexist with glimpses of modern urban architecture. The resulting aesthetic is a bold statement that has come to encapsulate the style of post-war Paris. The work of this period has been memorably described by John Golding: “Now, at the height of his powers, he rendered architectural the compositional effects of synthetic Cubism to give definitive form to all that had been most positive, from a visual point of view, in the Futurist programme ... From synthetic Cubism, Léger adapted a form of composition that relied for its effects on a surface organization in terms of predominantly upright, vertical areas, often tendered now in unmodulated colour. Mechanical, tubular forms, like great shafts of metal, appear with frequency, but these are now tied into, and indeed made subsidiary to a flatter treatment of the picture surface; the colored shapes tip and tilt, fanning out towards the edges of the canvas, only to meet opposing forces which tie them back again tightly into the overall, jazz-like rhythms of the composition. The bright raw colours call to each other across the surface of the canvas, pulling it taut like a drum. The vitality of the forms is such that at times they appear to advance towards us, so that we seem to share, palpably, in the painting’s beat. Some areas become cells in space, in which we glimpse the life of the city’s inhabitants; others are broken by letters, like fragments of giant billboards, while their harsh, dry imagery is thrown into relief by the contrasting, swirling, circular bands of colour. Never has the poetry of the first machine age been so grandly and proudly exalted” (J. Golding, “Léger and the Heroism of Modern Life,” in Léger and Purist Paris (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London, 1970-71, p. 12).
This canvas is closely related to a larger version currently in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. It was not uncommon for Léger to do variations on a single theme, and for some of his most important pictures he took the time to complete nearly identical versions in different sizes.