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Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

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London

Fernand Léger
1881 - 1955
COMPOSITION AU CORDAGE
signed F. Léger and dated 35 (lower right); signed F. Léger, titled and dated 35 on the reverse
oil on canvas
97 by 130cm.
38 1/8 by 51 1/8 in.
Painted in 1935.
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Provenance

Estate of the artist

André Bloc, Meudon (a bequest from the above)

Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998

Exhibited

Bern, Kunsthalle, Calder, Léger, Bodmer, Leuppi, 1947, no. 61

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Alexander Calder - Fernand Léger, 1947, no. 67

Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Fernand Léger. Exposition rétrospective 1905-1949, 1949, no. 56 (titled Les cordages)

Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Fernand Léger, 1985, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Le Cordage and with incorrect measurements)

London, Whitechapel Art Gallery & Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Fernand Léger: The Later Years, 1987-88, no. 11, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Composition aux cordages and with incorrect measurements)

Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Fernand Léger: Zeichnungen, Bilder, Zyklen 1930-1955, 1988, no. 15, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Composition aux cordages and with incorrect measurements)

Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Fernand Léger. Schlüsselwerke, 1990, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Le Cordage and with incorrect measurements)

Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou; Madrid, Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía & New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Fernand Léger, 1997-98, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Composition aux cordages and with incorrect measurements)

Literature

Christian Zervos, ‘Fernand Léger’, in Cahiers d'Art, Paris, nos. 1-4, 1935, illustrated in an unfinished state p. 64

David Cooper, Fernand Léger et le nouvel éspace, Geneva & Paris, 1949, illustrated p. 127 (titled Le Cordage)

Christian Zervos, Fernand Léger, Œuvres de 1905 à 1952, Paris, 1952, illustrated p. 66 (titled Le Cordage and with incorrect measurements)

Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger. Catalogue raisonné 1932-1937, Paris, 1996, no. 872, illustrated in colour p. 137 (with incorrect measurements)

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1935, Composition au cordage is a superb example of Fernand Léger’s remarkably bold utilisation of colour and his masterful manipulation of form, which had reached a peak of creative assurance by this stage of his career. Dominated by the curved form of a rope, a collection of seemingly unconnected elements hovers against a vibrant red background, with the contrast between amorphous shapes and the rigid geometric forms of the rectangular block resulting in an intriguing visual synergy. Many of Léger's compositions executed around this time were populated with images of the natural world, and the present work appears to reflect this with the presence of the yellow organic forms, which suggests the branches of a tree or an inter-connected root system. The primary colours which pervade the image – yellow and red – were of particular significance to Léger. According to the artist, these were the colours that expressed the reality of the medium of painting. Léger was interested in exploring the language of painting in its fullest and purest form, thus paring his vocabulary down to the ultimate elements of colour and form. As a result, Composition au cordage defies a sense of gravity and effectively transcends the earth-bound nature of a traditional landscape or still-life.

Speaking at The Museum of Modern Art in the year in which the present work was painted, Léger outlined the core precepts of his artistic practice: ‘It is… possible to assert the following: that colour has a reality in itself, a life of its own; that geometric form has also a reality in itself, independent and plastic [...] There was never any question in plastic art, in poetry, in music, of representing anything. It is a matter of making something beautiful, moving, or dramatic—this is by no means the same thing [...] Commonplace objects, objects turned out in a series, are often more beautiful in proportion than many things called beautiful and given a badge of honour [...] My objective is to try and establish the following: no more cataloguing of beauty into hierarchies—that is the most clumsy mistake possible. Beauty is everywhere, in the arrangement of saucepans on the white wall of your kitchen, perhaps more there than in your eighteenth-century salon or in official museums...' (quoted in Picasso, Braque, Léger: Masterpieces from Swiss Collections (exhibition catalogue), Minneapolis, 1975, pp. 65-69). This last sentence, which posits the intriguing idea that beauty is inherent within the most seemingly mundane of objects, can arguably be applied to the curving, sinuous form of the rope which gives Composition au cordage its name. The present work is also emblematic of a change in aesthetic which occurred in Léger’s works around this time, which saw objects from the natural world or everyday life transformed into dynamic and increasingly abstract compositions. The rope - used to such effect within Composition au cordage - was to become a significant motif for Léger, continuing to appear in his work over the next decades and culminating in his major series of paintings depicting construction workers in the early 1950s.

During the latter half of the 1930s, Léger's work focused largely on international interior design projects, and his paintings from this period often incorporated the imagery that he devised for these purposes. As a result of his increasing international renown, in 1937 the artist designed stage sets for the Paris Opéra, as well as decorations for the Trade Union Congress at the Vélodrome d'Hiver and the Transport des Forces for the Palais de Découverte in Paris. Léger continued to work in this capacity in 1938, when he was commissioned to decorate the apartment of Nelson Rockefeller in New York. These various design projects reflect a particular decorative flair the artist explored in many of his formal compositions on canvas of the period, such as the present work, in which there is a supreme elegance to the overall composition of the forms.

Composition au cordage resided for a time in the collection of the celebrated French sculptor, architect and author André Bloc. Bloc’s most iconic building, Villa Bloc near Meudon, succeeded in fusing sculptural and architectural elements to create an utterly distinctive creative language which echoed the organic forms of Le Corbusier, with whom Bloc was acquainted. In 1951 he was involved in the creation of the Espace manifesto which outlined the principles of Geometric Abstraction and Neo-Plasticism, alongside fellow artists Jean Deyrolle, Alfred Reth and Emile Gilioli amongst others.

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

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London