Lot 54
  • 54

FERNAND LÉGER | Composition

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


  • Fernand Léger
  • Composition
  • Signed F. Léger and dated 38 (lower right); titled Composition and indistinctly signed and dated (on the reverse)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 28 3/4 by 36 1/4 in.
  • 73 by 92 cm
  • Painted in 1938 and reworked by the artist circa 1938-39.


Galerie Louis Carré, Paris

Margit Chanin, New York (acquired from the above in 1968)

Mr. & Mrs. Sam Schulman, Los Angeles

Acquired from the above in 1992


Pierre Descargues, Fernand Léger, Paris, 1955, illustrated p. 111 (in initial state)

Pierre Descargues, Fernand Léger, Paris, 1997, illustrated p. 115 (in initial state)

Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné, 1938-1943, Paris, 1998, no. 976, illustrated p. 12 (in initial state)

Catalogue Note

This dynamic painting is a striking example of Fernand Léger’s work from the late 1930s. In this period, Léger’s focus shifted away from industrialism and mechanization toward more natural and abstract forms. Composition reflects Léger’s interest in pure color, compositional nuances, and biomorphic objects through the use of organic form in contrast with the more angular, geometric objects suspended and layered in a contrasting array. Denouncing the precept of imitating nature in his works of this period, Léger was more absorbed in the fullest and purest language of painting itself, thus reducing his vocabulary to the elements of color and form. As Léger explained: “We must master the subject in painting. The painting must emerge, not the subject….Painting must not be neglected; painting first, then the subject” (quoted in Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 225). The vivid, undulating forms of Composition painted in strong, unmodulated color and silhouetted against the flat background demonstrate this very idea: the work is aesthetically stimulating and inspires one to reflect on the bold colors, the varying plasticity of the objects, and the compelling, rhythmic arrangement. The resulting composition, devoid of a clear narrative, defies a sense of gravity and transcends the formal structures of traditional still-life painting. In considering Léger’s painting technique Carolyn Lanchner explains: "Most critics saw and see Léger as a painter of hard, precisely drawn contours and of smooth slick surfaces that conceal the trace of the brush; but this is the myth. If a viewer takes the trouble to look, it becomes obvious that Léger was a painter in love with paint, and most every canvas exhibits his enjoyment of it. He leaves pentimenti visible, edges are more often than not skewed, one side of a form is generally asymmetrical with the other, and large areas of bright, saturated color often cohabit with smaller patches of strange, pastel, bedroom hues. As Léger never tired of saying, his paintings are not copies of things in the visible world, but their equivalents in paint" (ibid., p. 43). Léger had a predilection for adjusting his compositions to invoke minor changes after an initial state of what, outwardly, seemed like completion. As was commonplace in his painting practice, visible pentimenti were often left within the composition as he fine-tuned his forms, providing a visible record of his conception of compositional elements. In the present work this becomes especially apparent through a close examination of the published illustrations in its intermediary statefirst published in 1955 and subsequently reproduced in the Georges Bauquier volume. It is evident that Composition received some minor alterations before it left Léger’s studio shortly thereafter; these minor modifications are primarily to the central components of the composition and are visible in the changing tonality of the various hues.