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Fernand Léger (France 1881‑1955)

”Les trois étiquettes” – 1er état

Hammered at SEK 2.000.000 at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale Week 16-18 June 2020

Lot 802. Fernand Léger (France 1881‑1955) ”Les trois étiquettes” – 1er état. Signed and dated F. Léger 47 lower right and signed, dated and titled F. Léger 47 Les 3 étiquettes on reverse. Oil on canvas, 38 x 46 cm.


1.000.000 – 2.000.000 SEK
€ 94.000 – 189.000


Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, (inv. no. 03222/6689).
Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm.
The collection of Dr Henry Pihl, Gothenburg.
The collection of Nils Wernberg, Gothenburg.
A Swedish Private Collection.


Galleri God Konst, Gothenburg, ”Utställning fransk konst”, 1949, cat. no. 28.
Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm, ”Fransk konst”, 1949, cat. no. 78.


Frank Elgar, Léger, Peintures 1911‑1948, 1948, illustrated no. XV.
Emile Joseph, F. Léger, Les Cahiers Luxembourgeois, Editions Raymon Mehlen, 1949, no. 7/8, illustrated p. 148.
Georges Bauquier, Fernand Léger: catalogue raisonné 1944‑1948, 2000, no. 1254, illustrated p. 162.

In context

Fernand Léger – redefining modern art

”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 and a great aspiration to make a difference. 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.

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.”

Fernand Léger continued to challenge himself throughout his lifetime, he was always searching to develop his artistry. The character of his works developed gradually into a more organic style, as in this auction’s striking composition “Les trois étiquettes” created in the year of 1947. At this time, Fernand Léger had experienced decades of success and had established his reputation as one of the most important modern painters. He had returned to France, after spending the years during the World War II in the United States. With a few strong colours and lines he creates a great impression in a very simple way. This is exactly how Léger were building his works, with contrasting colours and lines: ”I organize the opposition between colours, lines and curves. I set curves against straight lines, patches of colour against plastic forms, pure colours against subtly nuanced shades of grey.”

In “Les trois etiquettes” Léger is working only with the primary colours red, green, blue and yellow, one colour for each element. These colourful parts are contrasting against the grey-white background and the black lines in a rhythmical and dynamic composition that radiates its strong energy. Simplicity is often the best way to reach a higher point and Léger is mastering his brilliant interpretation and execution of this, showing the greatness of his artistry. The painting “Les trois etiquettes” also bears a sub-title; 1er état, and exists as a lithograph, published in 1948. This well-documented artwork originates from Galerie Louis Leiris in Paris and was exhibited in Sweden for the first time in the year of 1949, at Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet in Stockholm and at Galleri God Konst in Gothenburg. Since then it has remained in different private Swedish collections and is now offered on the auction market for the first time.

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 modern life made us register significantly more impressions than earlier, and this was something that art needed to express.

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