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Details & Cataloguing

Modernités

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Paris

Fernand Léger
1881 - 1955
LES DEUX SŒURS
signed F. LEGER and dated 32 (lower right); signed F. LEGER, dated 32 and titled LES DEUX SŒURS (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
62,5 x 54,5 cm; 24 1/2 x 21 1/2 in.
Painted in 1932.
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Provenance

Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris
Perls Galleries, New York
Private collection, New York (acquired from the above in October 1984 and sold: Christie's, New York, November 1, 2011, lot 69)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Literature

Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, 1932-1937, Paris, 1996, no. 813, illustrated p. 43

Catalogue Note

“I had broken down the human body, so I set about putting it together again and rediscovering the human face … I wanted a rest, a breathing space. After the dynamism of the mechanical period, I felt a need for the staticity of large figures.”
Fernand Léger

Painted in 1932, Les deux soeurs was part of a pivotal period for Léger: some years earlier, the painter had abandoned the abstract, mechanical vocabulary of the first few decades of his work in order to focus on the human figure, which he combined with organic elements. As Ina Conzen-Meairs has pointed out, “Compared with the works completed during 1928-1930, the later figurative compositions seem at first the result of a complete artistic reconsideration. The gleaming machines and fragmentary forms disappear successively from his pictures. In the 1930s works evolve that are peopled with organically conceived figures and objects.”

Les deux soeurs shows the painter’s aspiration to magnify the human figure by emphasizing its monumentality, an approach already visible in works such as La Danse (1929). Painted with a sober, almost mineral palette, punctuated by primary colours, the picture reduces the subject to its pictorial essence.

Les deux soeurs brilliantly illustrates the concept of the “figure-object” that is a core part of Léger’s oeuvre: in his work, unlike that of most of his contemporaries, the body and face appear devoid of their sentimental value, becoming an object to be treated like any other. Léger explained this way of representing the human model as follows: “For me the human figure, the human body is no more important than keys or bicycles. That’s true. For me they are objects valuable for their artistic potentiality and disposable according to my will […] It was necessary for the modern artist to detach himself from this sentimental grip in order to see more clearly. We have overcome this obstacle: the object has replaced the subject; abstract art came as a complete revelation, and then we were able to consider the human figure as a plastic value, not as a sentimental value. That is why in the development of my work from 1905 to the present day, the human figure has stayed intentionally inexpressive.“

In Les deux soeurs, as in many of the major compositions painted in the 1930s, Léger gave substance to his theory, by depicting his women as archetypes, conferring upon them an anonymous, universal value, a feeling heightened by their enigmatic, inexpressive gaze. In doing so, he deliberately followed in the tradition of the great classical painters, such as Ingres, Poussin and David. As an example of a more serene and peaceful mode of painting, Les deux soeurs perfectly embodies the “modern classicism” praised by Christopher Green, embodied here by these two women fixed in a majestic, eternal stillness.

Modernités

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Paris