Lot 209
  • 209

FERNAND LÉGER | Composition murale sur fond jaune

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Fernand Léger
  • Composition murale sur fond jaune
  • Signed F. Léger and dated 53 (lower right); signed F. Léger, dated 1953 and inscribed Composition murale N. 324 (on the reverse)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 57 1/2 by 35 in.
  • 146 by 89 cm
  • Painted in 1953.


Estate of the artist
Private Collection
Opera Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above in 2009


Tokyo, Galeries Seibu; Nagoya, Galeries Meitetsu & Fukuoka, Centre Culturel, Rétrospective Fernand Léger, 1972, no. 91, illustrated in the catalogue


Gilles Néret, Léger, Paris, 1990, no. 269, illustrated p. 199
Serge Fauchereau, Fernand Léger, Paris, 1994, illustrated p. 33
Georges Bauquier, Irus Hansma & Claude Lefebvre du Prey, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1952-1953, vol. IX, Paris, 2013, no. 1589, illustrated in color p. 201


The work is in very good condition. The canvas is unlined. There are some minor scattered studio stains likely inherent to the date of creation, particularly in the lower right hand corner. There is a nailhead sized indentation along the left half of the top edge. The colors are bright and fresh. Under UV inspection, no inpainting is apparent.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

In 1952 and 1953 Léger painted several versions of Peinture murale, including the present monumental example and a smaller first version now at the Musée national Fernand Léger in Biot (see fig. 1). This group of works, of which the present oil is the most tonally rich and vibrant, resulted in the large-scale mural also at the Léger Museum, painted the following year (see fig. 2). The large blocks of solid pigment in the present work encapsulate Léger’s belief in the key role of pure color in his painting. Rather than representing a likeness of the world that surrounds him, the artist uses overlapping patches of color as the principal element of the composition, creating new spatial relationships within the two-dimensional plane of the canvas. In 1950 Léger wrote: "The plastic life, the picture, is made up of harmonious relationships among volumes, lines, and colors. These are the three forces that must govern works of art. If, in organizing these three elements harmoniously, one finds that objects, elements of reality, can enter into the composition, it may be better and may give the work more richness" (quoted in Carolyn Lanchner, Fernand Léger, New York, 1998, p. 247). Léger was a great proponent of public art, and throughout his career he executed a number of murals, large-scale mosaics and outdoor sculpture. Discussing his monumental works in the context of the rise of public art in the period following the World War II, Pierre Descargues wrote: "Monumental art grew out of the nakedness of the new style of architecture. When Léger saw this, he wrote: 'The walls need to be exalted, the buildings and the city need to be given a joyful face. The job calls for a threesome: a wall, an architect and an artist... His desire for a public oeuvre grew out of his determination to transmit an art form stripped of symbols and emblems, devoid of all taint of myth and ideology... Léger could free himself of everything except his duty to painting" (Pierre Descargues, "The Monumental Art of Fernand Léger," in Yvonne Brunhammer, Fernand Léger: The Monumental Art, Milan, 2005, pp. 12-17).

During the final years of his life, Léger’s art oscillated between figurative works, such as the celebrated La Partie de campagne and Les Constructeurs, and fully abstract compositions such as the present work. Focusing on the pictorial elements of color and form, the overlapping elements of Composition murale sur fond jaune are painted in strong, unmodulated colors, delineated in black and silhouetted against a flat monochrome background. According to Léger, it is the primary colors, combined with black and white, that express the reality of the medium of painting. Rather than imitating nature, the artist was interested in exploring the language of painting in its fullest and purest form, thus reducing his vocabulary to the essential pictorial elements. As a result, Léger’s composition defies a sense of gravity and transcends the earth-bound nature of a traditional work of art.