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Fernand Léger

”Nature morte (Composition à l’étoile)”

Sold for 390.000 SEK at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale 5-9 december 2017.

414. Fernand Léger (France 1881‑1955). ”Nature morte (Composition à l’étoile)”.

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 the post-impressionist master 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. Léger 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 include and express.

Nature morte (Composition à l’étoile) included in this sale dates from a period when Léger composed several still-life paintings. In the late 1930’s he travelled several times mostly to the United States, where he finally chose to settle down by the time of the outbreak of World War II in 1939. The artist executed the gouache “Nature Morte”, which is included in this sale, in the year of 1939 and most probably during his time in the vibrant city of New York. The many trips abroad left less time for the artist to create larger artworks, and he often made several preparatory works before beginning working on a large canvas. These are many times as interesting and important as the final work, as they were often more revealing of the artist’s first thoughts behind his vivid compositions. This energetic composition inspired Léger to return to the motif with the larger oil on canvas “Nature Morte (Composition a l’étoile)” a few years later in 1946. The composition is closely linked to the fundamental principles of construction stated by Léger: “I organize the opposition of contrasting values, lines, and curves. I oppose curves to straight lines, flat surfaces to molded forms, pure local colors to nuances of gray”.

Upon his first stay in America Léger referred to New York as “the most colossal spectacle in the world” and continued on with “mechanical life is at its apogee here… American life is a succession of adventures optimistically pushed as far as they will go”. In the later 1930’s, the architect Wallace K. Harrison reached out to Léger and asked him to work on a proposal for decorating the walls at Nelson Rockefeller’s private apartment at Fifth Avenue in New York. The final result was a success and Fernand Léger was in the following years of 1938-1939 appointed some of his most important grand mural projects, such as decorating the roof at Harrison’s country home Hawes House. New York was becoming a metropolis for art and the growing modern ideas and Léger’s work dating from this period shows a deep understanding for and will to explore the flourishing movements.

This composition is a true example of the style Léger developed during his time in America and the different still-life objects are outlined in heavy black, creating a contrast between the white elements and the red and black background on which they lie. Contrasting to his grand projects at the time, this shows a far more personal and intimate reflection of the modern life and the New Realism. A majority of his pieces dating from the late 1930’s consisted of still-lives and he developed them according to his principles of the New Realism – that art must keep pace with the speed of modernity and therefore the people must be liberated and given the possibilities to think, see and of self-cultivation. The objects were cut loose from the traditional spatial arrangements and instead, Léger allowed them to float freely but also to connect in space. The artist himself did not intend for his works to have an underlying or hidden meaning, but to be accessible and open to everyone. In the artist’s own words, “The work of art should not participate in the battle; on the contrary, it should be the resting place after the strife of your daily struggles, in an atmosphere of calm and relaxation where your developed sensibility will enable you to admire the works, the pictures, without compelling you to ask negative questions such as “What does it represent” “What does that mean?””.

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