Lot 5
  • 5

FERNAND LÉGER | Le Campeur, 1er état

6,000,000 - 8,000,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Fernand Léger
  • Le Campeur, 1er état
  • Signed F.Leger. and dated 54 (lower right); titled, signed F. Leger. and dated 54 (on the reverse) 
  • Oil on canvas
  • 63 3/4 by 51 1/8 in.
  • 162 by 130 cm
  • Painted in 1954.


Galerie Maeght, Paris (acquired from the artist)

Ira Haupt, New Jersey (acquired before 1962 and sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, January 13, 1965, lot 30)

Nathan Cummings, New York (acquired at the above sale)

Private Collection, New York (acquired circa 1985 and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 3, 2005, lot 29)

Acquired at the above sale


New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Fernand Léger: Five Themes and Variations, 1962, no. 69, illustrated in the catalogue 

Vienna, Museum des 20. Jarhunderts, Léger, 1968

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971

Chicago, The Art Institute, Major Works from the Collection of Nathan Cummings, 1973, no. 60

New York, Acquavella Galleries, Fernand Léger, 1987, no. 49

Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Fernand Léger, Zeichnungen, Bilder, Zyklen 1930-1955, 1988, no. 110, illustrated in color in the catalogue

London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, Fernand Léger, The Later Years, 1988, no. 51, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Werner Schmalenbach, Fernand Léger, New York, 1976, illustrated pl. 47

Irus Hansma & Claude Lefebvre du Preÿ, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint 1954-1955, Paris, 2013, no. 1600, illustrated in color p. 25 

Catalogue Note

The present work belongs to an important series of "country outing" pictures that Léger completed the year before he died. Inspired by Édouard Manet's famous Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (see fig. 1), Léger's pictures featured characters enjoying their leisure time in the great outdoors. Léger was a life-long admirer of Manet, considering the artist one of the most important innovators in the history of art. Similar to Picasso's focus on the Old Masters in the 1950s, Léger was mindful of the artists of the past and decided to pay tribute to one of his favorites during these last few months of his life. This picture of campers is the first of two highly finished versions of this particular theme, while a third version with more abstract swaths of coloration also exists (see fig. 2). The series is also related to another of Léger's simultaneous preoccupations, La Partie de campagne, which directly references Manet's work (see fig. 3). Le Campeur incorporates the solidly linear figures that had populated Léger's best work since the 1920s. Shape and form were primary concerns for the artist, but by the last years of his career he began to incorporate narrative into his highly-geometric compositions. In this picture, the juxtaposition of the curvilinear family against the architecturally detailed natural setting reveals the medley of shapes and forms that have become part of the contemporary landscape. Léger was fascinated with social progress, and the campers, construction workers, and circus performers that he painted in the 1950s celebrate the activities of modern life.   

Concerning the contrasts inherent in these pictures from the 1950s, Léger said, "If I was able to approach very close to a realistic figuration, it was because the violent contrast between my workmen and the metal geometry in which they are set is at its maximum. Modern sculptures, whether social or other, are valid insofar as this law of contrasts is respected; otherwise one falls back on the classical picture of the Italian Renaissance" (quoted in W. Schmalenbach, op. cit., p. 162). Léger’s painting of this time was to have a profound effect on color-field and Pop Art painting in the later twentieth century. Artists from Frank Stella to Roy Lichtenstein would incorporate elements of Léger’s work into their canvases. "Léger's presence in Lichtenstein's oeuvre," writes Philippe Büttner, "is indeed more than obvious. Again and again he gives places of prominence to quotations of Léger's motifs.... Lichtenstein recognized that his own art shared many things in common with Léger's, such as an interest in industrial subjects, in factories and the city, and emphasized that these things surely also had something fundamentally to do with Pop" (Fernand Léger, Paris—New York (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2008, p. 21; see fig. 4). Part of Léger's genius, throughout his career, was to embrace both the fully abstract and fully representational. His deconstructed canvases just before World War I would be heavily entwined with the Orphists and Cubists, while his Purist bent in the 1920s is perhaps the most emblematic of the "Call to Order" felt immediately after the war in France. During his remaining decades he would marry these two principles, creating concrete imagery which would be inspirational to future generations. 

Writing about the present work in comparison to La Partie de campagne in his monograph on the artist, Werner Schmalenbach has observed that "the red patch in the middle makes it more brilliant than the main version, which has several white areas. But quite apart from this, the coloring in general is brighter: the green plant in the foreground, the big yellow flower in the girl's hand, the ball, the cactus, and the tree—green, not stone gray—that towers up in the yellow sky. The contrast motifs have also been expanded, in particular by the iron landing stage and the telegraph mast; harking back to his early period, Léger has violated idyllic nature with the constructions of the technological age. The figures, matching the upright format of the canvas, are more erect than in The Country Outing and also less relaxed; they hold their objects like emblems. Even the children are depicted facing the spectator. What prevents this work from becoming a mere genre picture is the stereotype treatment of the faces. Still, they are more earthy and 'healthier,' less dreamy and unreal than the masklike faces in The Country Outing, which have a touch of poetic enchantment" (W. Schmalenbach, op. cit., p. 164). A final version of Le Campeur, measuring three meters in height, hangs in Léger's eponymous museum in Biôt. Closely related in color, execution and exacting detail to the present work, Le Campeur, définitif brings together the twining threads of the artist's later works in a monumental masterpiece (see fig. 5).