Lot 2
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FERNAND LÉGER | Peinture murale polychrome

600,000 - 900,000 USD
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  • Fernand Léger
  • Peinture murale polychrome
  • Signed F. Leger and dated 49 (lower right); titled, signed F. Leger and dated -49 (on the reverse)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 36 by 28 3/4 in.
  • 91.5 by 73 cm
  • Painted in 1949.


The artist’s studio

Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris 

Alexy Maguy (Galerie de L'Élysée), Paris

Acquired circa 1980


Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné, 1949-1951, Paris, 2003, no. 1348, illustrated in color p. 57 

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1949, Peinture murale polychrome showcases the increased level of abstraction that Léger explored in the final years of his career. Pairing bold, structural elements with organic accents, Léger used his "law of contrasts" to supplant 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, Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 225). By flattening any sense of perspective, the forms in this painting float in space, layered claustrophobically, and yet keep their individual integrity through the contrast of colors. Léger's compositions demanded a revised set of laws to read a work of art, laws governed by instinct and visualization in place of education and class. 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 ibid., p. 247).

Léger described the principles that inform his devotion to abstraction: “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 Colours... 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 (exhibition catalogue), Kunstmuseum, Wolfsburg & Kunstmuseum, Basel, 1994, pp. 66-67).

While studying at the Académie Julian in 1918, Léger encountered fellow artist Jean Dubuffet, whose later work would reiterate similar aesthetic and conceptual values. Having abandoned painting in 1918, Dubuffet recommitted himself to artistry in the following decades, branching out into architectural forms around 1970 (see fig. 1). Incorporating the use of primary colors and bold expanses of white in his abstraction, Dubuffet's monumental sculptures play on the most essential elements of Léger's painting. Though decades apart, these works by Léger and Dubuffet reimagine traditional academic genres of still life and portraiture in graphic terms, simplifying three-dimensional forms into larger-than-life constructs which prioritize line and color.