- Fernand Léger
- Étude pour “Le Movement à billes”
- Signed with initials F.L. and dated 26 (lower right)
- Gouache and ink on paper
- 12 3/8 by 15 7/8 in.
- 31.5 by 40.2 cm
Private Collection (by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby’s, London, July 1, 1987, lot 507)
Galerie Krugier et Cie., Geneva (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired from the above
Munich, Kunsthalle, Fernand Léger, 1988-89, no. 83
Following World War I, Léger became close with Amedée Ozenfant and Le Corbusier, both key proponents of Purism. Characterized by simple and pure geometric forms, Purism exemplified the post-war return to a more traditional style under the “call to order” that rejected the style of Cubists, Futurists, and other pre-war movements. Ozenfant and Le Corbusier suggested that a new art was needed in response to what they saw as growing artistic excess and the chaos of the war, advocating a rigorous, precise, pure art attuned to the science and industry that permeated modern life. Works like Accordéon, carafe et cafetière by Le Corbusier exemplify this aesthetic in their orderly combining of pure, geometric forms. Although ambivalent at times, Léger’s embrace of Purism was visually strong, causing the art historian Robert Buck to state that: “It is in his still lifes and mural compositions of 1924-26 that Léger comes closest to Purism” (quoted in Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, Montreal & Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, 1982, p. 23). These years characterized Léger’s mature Purist style, in which boldly colored shapes and machine iconography dominated his oeuvre.
Étude pour “Le Movement à billes” is a classic example of Léger’s ability to express the mechanical world through the visual language of Purism. A gouache study for a painting in the permanent collection of the Kunstmuseum Basel, Étude pour “Le Movement à billes” is titled after the factory-made ball bearing depicted among other machine parts in the image. A simple but crucial device in many modern machines, ball bearings are symbolic of Léger’s humble belief in the power of the machine. Opining on this subject, Léger stated: “These new means have given us a new mentality. We want to see clearly, we want to understand mechanisms, functions, motors, down to their subtlest details. Composite wholes are no longer enough for us - we want to feel and grasp the details of those wholes - and we realize that these details, these fragments, if seen in isolation, have a complete and particular life of their own” (quoted in Fernand Léger: The Later Years (exhibition catalogue), Whitechapel Art Gallery, London & Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart, 1987, p. 31).