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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fernand Leger

Fernand Leger's brand of Cubism evolved rather quickly--
The Smokers, 1911-12, Woman in Blue, 1912, Nude Model in the Studio, 1913. 

The Mechanic, 1918, Fernand
Leger, considered a self-portrait
Yesterday, as I was posting links to some of the exceptional artists who had attended the Academie Julian (the item just below), I went in search of my discourse on the French Cubist painter, Fernand Leger. Guess what. There wasn't one. Although I've mentioned the man's name and shown his work quite a number of times, I'd never actually written about him. Leger is seen at right in what is assumed to be a self-portrait from 1918, by which time his work had evolved (above) from the harsh angularity usually attributed to Cubism into a more rounded, cylindrical embodiment, often termed by critics as "tubism." In any case, Leger was an important figure in the Modern Art movement in Paris during the early 20th century, so it's high time I included him in my pantheon of artists to be "worshipped and adored."

Le Jardin de ma mère (My Mother's Garden), 1905, Fernand Leger
Born in 1881, the same year as Picasso, Fernand Leger worked in the shadow of this mighty man all his life. He died in 1955, long before Picasso (1973). Besides studying at the Academie Julian, Leger spent what he termed "three empty and useless years" studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under the legendary academic painter, Gerome, though he was not officially enrolled as a student. Thus he was twenty-five years old before he began painting seriously. His Le Jardin de ma mère (My Mother's Garden, above) of 1905, is one of the few paintings he did not destroy from this early period. It appears to be loosely influenced by Impressionism, though not what you'd call an infatuation with a style that was, by then considered vaguely old-fashioned and passe.

The City, 1919, Fernand Leger
Leger undoubtedly knew of Picasso's ground breaking Cubism, and probably knew the man himself. The left bank, avant-garde artist community during the first decade of the 20th century was not that large, nor diverse. It including other artists such as Alexander Archipemko, Jacques Lipchitz,, Marc Chagall, and Robert Delaunay. Leger, as well as his friends, were all influenced, or inspired by Picasso (and Braque), if not, in some cases, actually imitating them. Leger comes very close as seen in his work from the period 1911-1913 (top). However, after the war, Leger moved on, imbuing Cubism with his own creative elements.

The Breakfast, 1921, Fernand leger
Soldier with a Pipe, 1916, Fernand Leger
Two Sisters, 1935, Fernand Leger

Fernand Leger wasn't the first artist to be influenced by a war, but few have encountered such a profound effect as seen in his Soldier with a Pipe (above, left) from 1916. Leger exchanged cubes for cylinders and spheres. Actually, he barely survived the war. A front-line combatant, Leger was very nearly gassed to death. During his recovery, he began to paint the rounded shapes he'd encountered with the guns of combat. This style, the "tubism" mentioned above, dominated his work during the 1920s as seen in his The Breakfast (above) from 1921. During the 1930s, Leger's work continued to evolve into a more organic manifestation of his trademark cubist cylinders. His Two Sisters (above, right), from 1935 illustrates a more monumental quality in his work, incidentally, not too unlike that that of Picasso's Classical Period during the 1920s.

Leisures on Red Bottom, 1949, Fernand Leger
Having had his fill of war the first time around, Leger sat out the Second World War in a teaching position in the U.S. at Yale University. His work from this period is known for its juxtaposition of nature versus the abuse of civilization upon the landscape. After the war, Leger returned to France then later settled in Switzerland where, during the final five years of his life, he joined the Communist party, though he was far more of a humanist than a socialist. His work became less abstract, more domesticated, featuring acrobats, builders, divers, and family outings in the country such his Leisures on Red Bottom (above) from 1949. Likewise, he extended his talents to stained glass, sculpture, book illustrations, and murals. In recounting his life, it would be very easy to relegate Fernand Leger to a role as a mere copyist of Picasso. However, more accurately, one might better see him as Picasso's shadow.

The Fernand Leger Museum, Biot, France (halfway between Cannes and Nice).



1 comment:

  1. Leger , (along with his contemporaries Utrillo and Rouault), seems to have been largely demoted in current tastes - but his legacy lives on in the likes of America Martin.