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PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION

Fernand Léger
ÉLÉMENT MÉCANIQUE SUR FOND JAUNE (CONSTRUCTION MÉTALLIQUE)
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
2,500,0003,500,000
LOT SOLD. 2,775,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
23

PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION

Fernand Léger
ÉLÉMENT MÉCANIQUE SUR FOND JAUNE (CONSTRUCTION MÉTALLIQUE)
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
2,500,0003,500,000
LOT SOLD. 2,775,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

|
New York

Fernand Léger
1881 - 1955
ÉLÉMENT MÉCANIQUE SUR FOND JAUNE (CONSTRUCTION MÉTALLIQUE)
Signed F. LEGER and dated 50 (lower right); titled ÉLEMENT MECANIQUE SUR FOND JAUNE, signed F. LEGER. and dated 50 (on the reverse)
Oil on canvas
36 1/8 by 28 7/8 in.
91.7 by 73.3 cm
Painted in 1950. 
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York

The Menil Foundation, Houston (acquired in 1960 and sold: Christie’s, New York, May 12, 1993, lot 41)

Raymond Nasher, Dallas (acquired at the above sale)

Private Collection (acquired from the above)

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Bern, Kunsthalle, Fernand Léger, 1952, no. 90

London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Fernand Légerpaintingsdrawingslithographs, ceramics, 1954-55, no. 34

New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, 6th Exhibition of Paintings by Léger, selected from the years 1918-1954, 1960-61, no. 15, illustrated in the catalogue 

Houston, University of Saint Thomas; Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts; Providence, Museum of Art; Providence, Rhode Island School of Design; Waltham, Massachusetts, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University; Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley; Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art; Minneapolis, Institute of Art & Indianapolis, Herron Museum of Art, Look Back. An Exhibition of Cubist Paintings and Sculpture from the Menil Family Collection, 1968-69, no. 32, illustrated in the catalogue

Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Chambéry, Musée des Beaux-Arts; Toulouse, Musée des Augustins; Nantes, Musée des Beaux Arts & Lille, Palais des Beaux Arts, Collection de Menil: Oeuvres Cubistes, 1970, no. 32, illustrated in the catalogue

Houston, Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Léger Our Contemporary, 1978, no. 40, illustrated in the catalogue 

Houston, Rice University, Fondren Art Library, 1987 (on loan)

Literature

Art International, Review, June, 1961, illustrated p. 23

Hommage à Fernand Léger, XXe siècle, Paris, 1971, illustrated p. 94

Gilbert Lascault, Léger, L'anti-récit, XXe siècle, Paris, 1975, no. 45, illustrated p. 54

Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, 1949-1951, Paris, 2003, vol. VIII, no. 1403, illustrated in color p. 149

Catalogue Note

Situating the chaotic steel girders of a construction site against a brilliant orange sky, Élément méchanique sur fond jaune (construction métallique) represents the culmination of Léger’s ode to the modern working man. Motivated in part by the horrors of World War II, Léger would join the French Communist party immediately upon his return from exile in the United States. With this decision, he joined the ranks of other artists of the French avant-garde such as Pablo Picasso, who registered for the party just one year before. The war convinced Léger more than ever that the purpose of art was to communicate with the masses, stating that, “It is inexcusable that after five years of war, the hardest war of all, men who have been heroic actors in this sad epic should not have their rightful turn in the sanctuaries. The coming peace must open wide for them the doors that have remained closed until now. The ascent of the masses to beautiful works of art, to Beauty, will be the sign of the new time” (quoted in Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), Helly Nahmad Gallery, New York, 2005, p. 26).       

Léger was no stranger to war. The only son of provincial cattle-breeders, he had studied architecture and fine art in Paris before serving as part of the French engineering corps during World War I. This regiment experienced some of the war’s most gruesome battles near Verdun in the summer of 1915. The Western Front unsurprisingly proved a shocking contrast to the pre-war Parisian avant-garde for Léger, who wrote, “My new comrades were miners, laborers, artisans working in wood and metal; I found the French people” (ibid, p. 11).

Such experiences bolstered Léger’s solidarity with the everyday Frenchmen amongst whom he fought, predisposing the artist to explore them as subjects later in his career. “Leger’s desire to reach and represent the ordinary man is evident in his theory that everything has its own roots….in his fusion of the mechanical and the mundane and in his fondness for contrast and mélange. Throughout his career, his peasant background contributed to his social philosophy and influenced his work” (ibid, p. 17).

Returning to a scarred but liberated France in December 1945 at the end of World War II, Léger’s predilection for mechanical and technological subject matter found a wealth of inspiration in the setting of post-war recovery. Combined with his belief in the worth of proletarian labor, these forces led the artist to produce Les Constructeurs, one of his most recognizable and acclaimed series of paintings. Élément méchanique sur fond jaune (construction métallique) was produced concurrently with Les Constructeurs, deriving from the same visual vocabulary found in France’s reconstruction efforts. In citing his inspiration for Les Constructeurs, Léger explained, “The idea came to me on the way to Chevreuse. There were three pylons with high-voltage cables being constructed near the road. Some men were perched on them, working. I was struck by the contrast between those men, the metal architecture and the clouds in the sky.” Shortly after completing works such as Étude pour les constructeurs, fond bleu, Leger completed a short series of three paintings that highlighted the mechanical elements of the construction site, situated against characteristically primary shades of yellow, blue and orange. The present work is the first painting of this group.

Depicting a chaotic knot of steel construction materials, Élément méchanique sur fond jaune (construction métallique) monumentalizes the labor of the French people. In choosing to focus on the concrete evidence of this labor, as distinct from the workers themselves, Léger drew upon his longstanding interest in the importance of technology in everyday life. This sentiment was reinforced during the artist’s five-year stay in the United States during the span of World War II. Selecting an initial studio at 80 West 40th Street in New York, the artist no doubt encountered the skyscrapers and ubiquitous construction sites characteristic of the city.     

Élément méchanique sur fond jaune (construction métallique) is also extraordinary in its use of color. Léger heightened the effect of bright, primary hues by utilizing flat fields of color that appear almost independent of the spatial framework of the metallic structure. This bold use of color would extend to a new generation of Post-war American artists, including those such as Ellsworth Kelly, who pushed the limits of color and form, ultimately freeing them completely from the picture plane. As in Orange Red Relief, Kelly would take up the mantle of bold coloration that Léger initiated in his spectacular post-war series. Léger's inclination to monumentalize aspects of every-day life, such as the construction site in Élément méchanique sur fond jaune (construction métallique), would inspire the first generation of Pop artists including Roy Lichtenstein. 

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

|
New York