- 款識：畫家簽名 F. Léger、題款並紀年22（背面）
Rita & Taft Schreiber, Beverly Hills
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above in October 2003
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, L'Esprit Nouveau: Purism in Paris, 1918 - 1925, 2001-02, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger. Catalogue Raisonné 1920 - 1924, Paris, 1992, no. 343, illustrated in color p. 252 (reproduced upside-down)
Member's Magazine of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, illustration in color on the cover
Anna Vallye, Léger. Modern Art and the Metropolis, Philadelphia, 2013, no. 281, illustrated in color p. 256
The composition is painted with a vibrant palette of primary colors that Léger carried over from the Contrastes de Formes series that had occupied him before the war. The aesthetic of Les Maisons, though, is much more representational than any of his pre-war pictures. After witnessing the atrocities of battle and the brutal destruction of the familiar world, Léger felt that abstraction was no longer an appropriate style for his art. Instead, he began to concentrate on more identifiable forms, like the towering smoke stack here that rises from the center of the composition. Although this picture is by no means a realistic representation of its subject matter, it is filled with elements that can be related to architecture and construction. Years later, he would explain this change in his artistic priorities: "It was those four years [of World War I] which threw me suddenly into a blinding reality that was entirely new to me… Suddenly I found myself on an equal footing with the whole French people. Posted to the sappers, my new comrades were miners, laborers, artisans who worked in wood or metal. I discovered the people of France. And at the same time I was suddenly stunned by the sight of the open breach of a .75 cannon in full sunlight, confronted with the play of light on white metal. It needed nothing more than this for me to forget the abstract art of 1912-13" (Fernand Léger, in Arts, Paris, 1949).
Les Maisons is among a series of works from the immediate post-war period that include Le Moteur, L'Horloge, Les Hélices, Les Pistons, La Gare, and La Ville. These compositions inherit the stylistic legacy of Synthetic Cubism and also incorporate the dynamism and energy that was concurrently being expressed in Italian Futurist art. In these vibrant compositions Léger showed his ability to work on a monumental scale, maintaining a fine balance between the abstract strength of the Contrastes de formes series and references to contemporary urban life. When he was painting these pictures Léger was bearing witness to the production of a new society, and domestic architecture was perhaps the best symbol of this spectacle.
Les Maisons consists of many geometric forms, vertical, horizontal and diagonal bands of color, spheres and less clearly definable shapes that coexist with glimpses of modern urban architecture. The resulting aesthetic is a bold statement that has come to encapsulate the style of post-war Paris. The work of this period has been memorably described by John Golding: “Now, at the height of his powers, he rendered architectural the compositional effects of synthetic Cubism to give definitive form to all that had been most positive, from a visual point of view, in the Futurist programme... From synthetic Cubism Léger adapted a form of composition that relied for its effects on a surface organization in terms of predominantly upright, vertical areas, often tendered now in unmodulated colour. Mechanical, tubular forms, like great shafts of metal, appear with frequency, but these are now tied into, and indeed made subsidiary to a flatter treatment of the picture surface; the colored shapes tip and tilt, fanning out towards the edges of the canvas, only to meet opposing forces which tie them back again tightly into the overall, jazz-like rhythms of the composition. The bright raw colours call to each other across the surface of the canvas, pulling it taut like a drum. The vitality of the forms is such that at times they appear to advance towards us, so that we seem to share, palpably, in the painting’s beat. Some areas become cells in space, in which we glimpse the life of the city’s inhabitants; others are broken by letters, like fragments of giant billboards, while their harsh, dry imagery is thrown into relief by the contrasting, swirling, circular bands of colour. Never has the poetry of the first machine age been so grandly and proudly exalted” (J. Golding, 'Léger and the Heroism of Modern Life,' in Léger and Purist Paris (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London, 1970-71, p. 12).
The first owner of this picture was the British author W. Somerset Maugham, who was closely associated with the avant-garde of Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. It then came into the possession of the California collectors Rita and Taft Schreiber, who donated the lion's share of their collection to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Taft Schreiber is perhaps best known as Ronald Reagan's Hollywood agent and was a close advisor during the years Reagan was Governor of California.