Victor Servranckx, Belgium (acquired from the artist) Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne Acquired from the above by the late owner in 1977
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Fernand Léger, 1881-1955, 1956
Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger. Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, 1925-1928, Paris, 1993, no. 523, illustrated p. 224
Composition au chapeau is a vibrant and highly impressive example of Fernand Léger’s influential post-war style. The combination of the exotically-banded top hat and art-deco inspired abstract shapes shows the masterful manner in which Léger revitalised the cubist aesthetic. The remarkable surface texture employed by the artist, such as the vinyl sheen of the central form and the curlicues of smoke, are characteristic of the period. The highly stylised surfaces complement the abstract composition of the depicted forms, whether organic or mechanic. Philippe Büttner argues that ‘In Léger, assemblage-like composition generally goes hand in hand with a paint application that eschews painterly effects, letting the individual compositional elements remain clearly legible as separate parts. The overall result is Léger’s famous “cool” style’ (P. Büttner, Fernand Léger: Paris – New York (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2008, p. 14).
Discussing the important developments the artist made during the period the present work was painted, Douglas Cooper wrote: ‘Then, in 1927, as if reacting against his own self-discipline, Léger began that great series of paintings known as Objects in Space. Gradually he exchanged the monumental for the living. The architectural elements disappeared and were replaced by scattered objects setting up a rhythm between themselves, while the space in which they moved was created by pushing the objects into the fore-ground and setting up a play of colours in the background. The objects are related to each other by means of carefully controlled chromatic values, by similar or opposing rhythms and by the use of lines of direction which weave in and out through the whole composition. Léger places his objects at just the right distance from each other: they are held there by virtue of the laws of harmony and rhythm […] A pipe, a tree, a cog-wheel, an accordion, a bunch of keys, a straw hat or a pair of dancers – all have their rôle to play’ (D. Cooper, Fernand Léger et le nouvel espace, London, 1949,p. XIV-XV).
Composition au chapeau is dedicated to Victor Servranckx (1897-1965), who was the first owner of the present work and a Belgian abstract painter and designer. He studied from 1913–1917 at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where, in 1916, he met the surrealist René Magritte. Servranckx became the artistic director of a wallpaper manufacturing firm and procured various commissions for Magritte which helped support him for a number of years. The two became friends and in 1922 wrote together, but never published, Pure Art: A Defence of the Aesthetic which argued that Purist art should take as its primary subjects objects of modern life. The present work’s adherence to this principle reflects the mutual respect between Léger and Servranckx.
The canvas is unlined. There are some tiny spots of retouching in the pale background, visible under ultra-violet light. Apart from some very minor stable craquelure in the white pigment in the upper left quadrant, this work is in very good condition.
Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although slightly brighter and more vibrant in the original. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."