While Léger made a number of trips to the United States throughout the 1930s, his return to New York in 1938 marked the beginning of a decades-long friendship with Nelson Rockefeller. Léger had recently been introduced to Rockefeller’s primary architect, Wallace K. Harrison, through the sculptor and collector Mary Callery. While the exact date of his introduction to Léger is unknown, Harrison would prove pivotal to the artist’s work in the United States. In August 1938, Léger wrote “Ten days ago I had lunch with Harrison, Radio City’s architect and also Rockefeller’s, with Mrs. Callery. From this, decorative project for Nelson Rockefeller’s apartment…so trip to New York stay 3 months with a studio at my disposition…!” (quoted in Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 48).
In addition to his estate at Pocantico Hills, Rockefeller owned a Manhattan apartment at 810 Fifth Avenue for which Léger completed a monumental mural over one of the fireplaces. This initial venture between Rockefeller, Harrison and Léger fostered a series of subsequent collaborations, including the unrealized “cinematic mural” at Rockefeller’s Radio City Music Hall and two murals for the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations. Rockefeller would even invite Léger to work alongside Harrison on a guesthouse for Kykuit, his 250-acre estate north of New York City. Through such projects, Léger became one of Rockefeller's closest artist friends throughout the remaining years of his life. Indeed, in 1940, as war engulfed Léger's home continent, Rockefeller helped to secure the artist's permanent residency in the United States by writing a letter to Immigration and Naturalization Services on Léger's behalf.
In addition to these large-scale commissions, Rockefeller acquired a number of Léger’s smaller works for his personal collection, including Composition aux deux fruits. Painted the same year as his fateful lunch with Wally Harrison and Mary Callery, Léger’s canvas includes an express dedication to the future governor. Liberating the traditional still life subject matter from its conventional context, Composition aux deux fruits succinctly expresses Léger’s aim to let objects exist for their own sake in an isolated, revitalized state. Not only an expression of Léger’s avant-garde aesthetic, Composition aux deux fruits is the product of one of the great artist-collector relationships in modern art.