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Fernand Léger (France 1881‑1955

”Deux femmes”

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary 8 – 10 November 2023

Lot 405 Fernand Léger (France 1881‑1955). ”Deux femmes”. Signed with monogram and dated F.L. 13 lower right. Charcoal on paper, 52.5 x 37 cm.

With a charcoal sketch verso depicting a seated woman.
Compare with the drawing ”Deux nus” in the collection of Moderna Museet, Stockholm, inv. no. NMH 33/1930.
Please note that a certificate of authenticity provided by Douglas Cooper and dated 30.11.1959 has been lost.


300.000 – 400.000 SEK
€ 26.000 – 35.000


The collection of Édouard Léon Théodore Mesens (1903–1971), Brussels.
The collection of Eric Estorick (1913‑1999), London.
Albemarle Gallery, London.
Fabian Carlsson Gallery, Marbella, acquired from the above.
A Swedish Private Collection, acquired from the above in 2001.


Grosvenor Gallery, London, ”Alexander Archipenko: sculpture and sculpto-painting 1909‑1921”, 20 June-11 July 1961, cat. no. 35.
Arthur Jeffress Gallery, London, ”Art in the film: The Victors”, 1962, no. 20 (lended by Eric Estorick, the exhibition catalogue is included).


Jean Cassou and Jean Leymarie, Léger – Dessins et gouaches, 1972, compare to no. 15, p. 28.

In context

Fernand Léger’s dynamic drawing “Deux femmes” from 1913

”Colour is a human need like water and fire. It is a raw material indispensable to life”, said the artist Fernand Léger who dedicated his life to art. Speaking about modernism without mentioning his name would not be possible. As one of the important innovators of this new movement in art that emerged, primarily in Paris around the time when the world turned into a new century, Léger has forever his name printed in every book that covers the modern history of art. Paris was at the time a city that flourished with inspiration. Following the innovations in science, technique, literature, philosophy and the industrial revolution, art also experienced its own revolution. In the footsteps of the impressionists and symbolists, a new generation of artists searched for new forms of expressions and made a radical break with the past. Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Derain and Léger were all pioneers that developed a new imagery and created artworks that reflected the hopes of modern societies.

In the February 1912 issue of the review Soirées de Paris, the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire focused on the idea that intrigued the avant-garde artists; questioning the significance of the subject. Instead, they sought to develop a non-representational approach to painting. “Verisimilitude no longer has any importance, for the artist sacrifices everything to the composition of his picture. The subject no longer counts, or if it counts, it counts for very little… An entirely new art is thus being evolved, an art that will be to painting, as painting has hitherto been envisaged, what music is to literature. It will be pure painting, just as music is pure literature” (”On the Subject in Modern Painting” in L.C. Breunig, ed., Apollinaire on Art, Boston, 2001, p. 197). Léger had an independent approach to cubism and worked with a truly pictorial dynamism, in contrast to the Italian futurists’ illusionary representation of movement. In 1913, the same year he created “Deux femmes” included in this sale, Léger was on the verge of pure painting. In the years of 1913-1914, Léger created radical works that demonstrate the “pure painting of contrasts with no subject at all”. In the present charcoal drawing, he returned to the subject of two women and drew them by using simple geometric volumes and cylindrical and planer elements. The lines are both straight and curved, and the edges smudged. By using this technique, Léger created an explicit effect seen in many of his drawings from these years.

The drawing ”Deux femmes” by Fernand Léger shown in the movie ”The Victors” from 1962.
The drawing ”Deux femmes” by Fernand Léger shown in the movie ”The Victors” from 1962.

The present drawing bears many similarities to the drawing “Deux nus” (in the collection of Moderna Museet, Stockholm, inv. no. NMH 33/1930), that was donated to the museum from Swedish artist and collector Georg Pauli in 1930. Another comparable drawing was offered at Bukowskis, Stockholm, 28 April 2003, lot 308. Both works on paper have an additional sketch in charcoal verso, depicting a seated nude woman. “Deux femmes” was exhibited at Arthur Jeffress Gallery, London in the 1960s, where all the works from the movie “The Victors” were shown to the public. In the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, G.S. Whittet wrote: “Eric Estorick helped his friend Carl Foreman, writer, director and producer of The Victors, by lending this splendid selection of works to establish the character and background of the two French people having a sympathetic appreciation of the art of their time.” The present drawing is listed as no. 20 in the exhibition catalogue and is shown in the movie “The Victors”, placed on the floor in a pile with other works, next to actress Jeanne Moreau.

Fernand Léger revolutionized the art world when he developed his very own characteristic cubist style that the critics termed “Tubism”. By using different cylindrical forms that emphasised one another he gradually built the motifs that today are regarded as milestones of the modernist era. Finding inspiration in the different new devices of the world; in machines, technical equipment and in the human being as a machine, Léger found his true mission. Léger never searched for a realistic true-to-life experience in his paintings, he was a great innovator that with his stylistic challenges contributed to the development of the modern art. With his own words: ”The feat of superbly imitating a muscle, as Michelangelo did, or a face, as Raphael did, created neither progress nor a hierarchy in art. Because these artists of the sixteenth century imitated human forms, they were not superior to the artists of the high periods of Egyptian, Chaldean, Indochinese, Roman, and Gothic art who interpreted and stylized form but did not imitate it.”

Being one of the pioneers of twentieth century art, Fernand Léger was reinventing form and at the same time capturing his time as a brilliant colourist. By releasing his mind from the content, which he had learnt from Paul Cézanne, when approaching the modern subject of technique, the reality of the mechanics and the bustling rotating life of the city, he depicted the technological progress in an age of rapid industrialisation. He claimed that the expression of the image had changed because modern life made change necessary. This was partly because the modern ways of living made us observe significantly more impressions than earlier, and this was something that art needed to express.

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