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EVERYTHING YOU CAN IMAGINE IS REAL: PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION

Fernand Léger
NATURE MORTE À LA PIPE SUR FOND ORANGE
Estimate
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Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
1,200,0001,800,000
LOT SOLD. 1,940,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
37

EVERYTHING YOU CAN IMAGINE IS REAL: PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION

Fernand Léger
NATURE MORTE À LA PIPE SUR FOND ORANGE
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
1,200,0001,800,000
LOT SOLD. 1,940,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

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New York

Fernand Léger
1881 - 1955
NATURE MORTE À LA PIPE SUR FOND ORANGE
Signed F. Léger and dated 28 (lower right); signed F. Leger, inscribed Nature morte definitif and dated 28 (on the reverse)
Oil on canvas
36 1/4 by 25 1/2 in.
92 by 64.8 cm
Painted in 1928.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

Paul Rosenberg (acquired from the artist, likely by 1929)

Richard Davis, New York (and sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, April 13, 1944, lot 87)

Jacques Seligmann & Co., New York (acquired at the above sale)

The artist, France (acquired by 1955)

Nadia Léger, France (by descent from the above in 1955)

Musée national Fernand Léger, Biot (acquired from the above by 1964)

Private Collection (acquired by 1971)

Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired by 1980)

Wally Findlay Gallery, New York 

Private Collection, Switzerland (and sold: Sotheby's, London, December 4, 1984, lot 49)

Acquired at the above sale

Exhibited

Rouen, Musée des Beaux Arts, Les Grandes étapes de l'art moderne, 1954, no. 63

Lyon, Musée de Lyon, Fernand Léger, 1955, no. 40

Paris, Musée des Arts Decoratifs & Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Fernand Léger 1881-1955, 1956, no. 64, illustrated in the catalogue

Paris, Salon de Mai, Hommage à Léger, 1956, no. 64, illustrated in the catalogue 

Munich, Haus der Kunst, Fernand Léger, 1881-1955, 1957, no. 51, illustrated in the catalogue

Zurich, Kunsthaus, Fernand Léger, 1957, no. 69

Liège, Musée de l'art wallon, Léger-Matisse-Picasso-Miró-Laurens-Magnelli-Arp-Hartung-Jacobsen, 1958, no. 9 

Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Fernand Léger, 1964, no. 28

London, Tate Gallery, Léger and Purist Paris, 1970-71, no. 72

Paris, Grand Palais, Fernand Léger, 1971-72, no. 106, illustrated in the catalogue 

Fukuoka, Centre Culture; Nagoya, Galerie Meitetsu & Tokyo, Galerie Seibu, Fernand Léger, 1972, no. 24, illustrated in the catalogue

Berlin, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Fernand Léger, 1881-1955, 1980-81, no. 56, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Léger, 1881-1981, 1981, no. 23, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Biot, Musée national Fernand Léger, Hommage à Fernand Léger 1881-1955, Exposition du Centenaire, 1981, no. 44, illustrated in the catalogue

Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Fernand Leger - Selected Works from a Private Collection, 1994, illustrated in color in the catalogue 

Literature

"Fernand Léger" in Sélection, cahier no. 5, Antwerp, 1929, illustrated p. 56

Paul Firens, "Fernand Léger" in La Renaissance, Paris, 1929, illustrated in an early state p. 387 

Christian Zervos, "Fernand Léger et le développement des objets dans l'espace" in Cahiers d'Art, no. 4, Paris, 1929, illustrated p. 158 

Christian Zervos, "Fernand Léger, Exposition au Kunsthaus de Zurich" in Cahiers d'Art, special issue, no. 3-4, Paris, 1933, illustrated n.p.

Maurice Jardot, Fernand Léger, Paris, 1956, illustrated in color

Atsushi Miyagawa, "Braque-Leger" in L'Art du Monde, vol. 18, Tokyo, 1968, illustrated in color 

André Verdet, Fernand Léger: I mestri del Novecento, Florence, 1969, illustrated p. 27

"Fernand Léger" in Europe, Paris, 1971, illustrated in color 

Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, vivre dans le vrai, Paris, 1987, illustrated in color p. 130

Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné 1925-1928, Paris, 1995, no. 553, illustrated in color p. 277

Catalogue Note

Born in a small town in Normandy in 1881, Fernand Léger left home at the age of nineteen to pursue a career in Paris as an architectural draftsman. In Paris, his proximity to the rising stars of the avant-garde and exposure to the increasingly modernizing world would deeply influence his career and help define the course of art history. In the early years of the twentieth century, Léger would become acquainted with artists like Lipchitz and Soutine at La Ruche—the iconic studio-cum-residence shared by dozens of Modern artists in Montparnasse—as well as with Apollinaire and the leading Cubists, Picasso and Braque. Such affiliations would help guide Léger’s personal artistic identity, beginning with his Contrastes de formes from 1913, which presented flat, abstracted planes of juxtaposed colors, forms and lines. The focus on plastic elements and their compositional harmony, begun in these early works, would always take primacy of place of his oeuvre, as reflected in Nature morte à la pipe sur fond orange.

Influenced by the Purist aesthetic promulgated by Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, as well as the machine-driven imagery of the Futurists (see fig. 1), Léger’s still lifes from the late 1920s-30s present carefully crafted collections of familiar forms, gathered together to achieve utmost balance in both color and composition. As Léger described, “I organize the opposition of contrasting values, lines and curves. I oppose curves to straight lines, flat surfaces to molded forms, pure local colors to nuances of grey. These initial plastic forms are either superimposed on objective elements or not, it makes no difference to me. There is only a question of variety...” (quoted in E.F. Fry, Fernand Léger: The Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, pp. 24-25).

Also recalling the Cubist and Dadaist subversion of language and form, as well as their use of collage (see fig. 2), Léger’s Nature morte à la pipe sur fond orange removes its constituent parts from their rational, typical contexts, employing recognizable figures like keys, letters, leaves and pipes primarily for their linear qualities. Such objects would become visual mainstays of Léger’s work in the following years, serving as building blocks for his myriad still life compositions. The trivialization of the connoted meaning attached to these objects connects to Dadaist principles, while also foreshadowing and inspiring the Pop Art movement and its generalized cooptation of imagery from the 1950s onward. As Léger stated, "The subject in painting has already been destroyed, just as avant-garde film destroyed the story line. I thought that the object, which had been neglected, was the thing to replace the subject" (quoted in J. Cassou & J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger: Drawings and Gouaches, New York, 1973, p. 87). 

In the present work, Léger reduces his color scheme to the dichotomous pairings of black and white and green and orange to achieve a static, harmonious balance within the picture. The artist’s incorporation of everyday objects also reflects a meditation on modernity and the rise of the working class around him in Paris. The years before and after the completion of this work attest to Léger’s continued fascination with plastic harmony, mechanical structure and repetition, both in his preceding Eléments mécaniques series of the early 1920s (see fig. 3), as well as his later figural group scenes like the Constructeurs of the 1950s. “Expression was always an element too sentimental for me. Not only did I sense the human figure as an object, but also since I found the machine so plastic, I wanted to give the human figure the same plasticity. If later, I painted hands in a way a bit different than the figure, without the geometric embodiment of my old canvases, I did it only because it didn’t bother me from the plastic point of view” (quoted in Fernand Léger (exhibition catalogue), Grand Palais, Paris, 1971-72, op. cit., p. 66). The combination of man and machine was a mantel that would be taken up by both fellow and future artists. In his black and white works from the 1990s and 2000s, Albert Oehlen confronts both the aesthetics and capabilities of early computer programs as a form of visual painting. His whispered lines, graphic letters and ungainly shapes echo, almost a century later, Fernand Léger's most graphic works (see fig. 4). 

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

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New York