Painted in 1930, Danseuses au tronc d’arbre is a vibrant and highly impressive example of Fernand Léger's influential post-war style. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Léger discarded the rigid structure of his Purist-influenced compositions and allowed his object and figures to float freely on the canvas. The geometric forms gave way to more fluid and organic shapes. In the present painting, Danseuses au tronc d’arbre, the undulating lines of the women are echoed in the abstracted tree trunk in the right hand side of the composition.
By this time, Léger had successfully reintegrated the human form into his work. This painting is related to La Danse (see fig. 1), painted one year earlier. These are experiments in paring down monumental figures down to pure forms, which marked a change in direction after years of greater mechanization and abstraction in his art. Léger noted: “As long as the human body is considered a sentimental or expressive value in painting, no new evolution in pictures of people will be possible. Its development has been hindered by the domination of the subject over the ages... In contemporary modern painting, the object must become the leading character and dethrone the subject. Then, in turn, if the person, the face, and the human body become objects, the modern artist will be offered considerable freedom. At this moment, it is possible for him to use the law of contrasts, which is the constructive law, with all its breadth. This law of contrasts is nothing new. If one looks at the past, one can observe that even if traditional painters did not use it, at least they had an inkling of it in the composition of their pictures” (Fernand Léger & Edward F. Fry, eds., Functions of Painting, London, 1973, p. 132).