Léger himself described the increasing level of abstraction in his painting: “The realistic value of a work of art is completely independent of any imitative character. This truth should be accepted as dogma and made axiomatic in the general understanding of painting... Pictorial realism is the simultaneous ordering of three great plastic components: Lines, Forms and Colors... the modern concept is not a reaction against the impressionists' idea but is, on the contrary, a further development and expansion of their aims through the use of methods they neglected... Present-day life, more fragmented and faster moving than life in previous eras, has had to accept as its means of expression an art of dynamic divisionism; and the sentimental side, the expression of the subject (in the sense of popular expression), has reached a critical moment... The modern conception is not simply a passing abstraction, valid only for a few initiates; it is the total expression of a new generation whose needs it shares and whose aspirations it answers” (quoted in D. Kosinski, ed., Fernand Léger, 1911-1924, The Rhythm of Modern Life, Munich & New York, 1994, pp. 66-67).
Aroused by political feeling and a recognition of the social potential of art, Léger's compositions of the late 1930s adopted a universal approach and elemental iconography. Seeking to appeal to the masses, Léger's aesthetic rejected the need for any narrative, subverting conventional means of pictorial representation. This new style sought to break down the divides between high and low culture by celebrating the beauty of everyday objects.
Juxtaposing the organic with the structural, Léger used his "law of contrasts" to replace the traditional constraints derived from Renaissance theory. His aim was for the plastic beauty of his art to “provide the masses with a sort of aesthetic relief” (C. Lanchner in Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 225). By eliminating any sense of perspective, the flat forms in Léger's Le Vase rouge float in space, layered claustrophobically, neither shape permitted to be the primary focus of the composition. Léger's canvases demanded a revised set of laws to read a work of art, laws governed by instinct and visualization in place of education and class.
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