“There are not just natural elements, like the sky, the trees and the human body; all around us are the things that man has created, the things that make up our New Realism.” Fernand Léger.
Leger was born the son of a cattle-drover in Argentan, France. He did not excel at school and wasn’t accepted into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His ‘Nudes in the Forest’ (1909-1910), however, was a success at the Salon and he joined Gabriel Ferrier’s school. After a brief Post-Impressionist spell, he started working in the Cubist idiom and exhibited at the Section d’Or. With his ‘Contrasts in Form’ series he achieved his reputation and by 1913 he was famous.
His experience as a stretcher-bearer in the First World War was a traumatic one but served to inspire two of his most acclaimed works, ‘The Soldier with a Pipe’ (1916) and ‘The Game of Cards’ (1917). Under the guidance of Le Corbusier and Ozenfant he worked in the Purist mode in the early Twenties, producing static paintings often depicting machine parts. His work encompassed a number of different styles including stage sets for the Ballets Suédois and filmmaking with him co-directing ‘Ballet Mécanique’ (1924). He also worked as an art critic and ran his own art school, the Académie de l’Art Contemporain.
Léger travelled widely throughout Europe in the 1930s as well as visting the United States for the first time, exhibiting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1935 and eventually moving there in 1940 to teach until 1945. Once back in France he continued his quest to bridge the gap between the visual arts and the general public primarily with his series of ‘Constructors’. His mural, ‘The Builders’ (1950) was one of the most impressive examples of his aesthetic programme ‘available to the people’.
Léger worked with flat colours with heavy black contours often on a monumental scale. His ‘Objects in Space’ series show his fascination with form and his attention to detail. Painting for him was, however, always about describing the human experience, an obsession he expressed with supreme confidence and originality.