Fernand Leger

French painter, sculptor, and filmmaker Fernand Léger was one of the icons representing the dawn of modern art in the twentieth century. Born in Normandy, France, in 1881, Léger belonged to a family of cattle farmers and grew up in an environment that was not supportive of his artistic inclinations. Starting his career as an architect's apprentice when he was sixteen years old, Léger moved to Paris in 1900 and started to work as a photography retoucher and an architectural draftsman. While he failed to gain an admission at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, he honed his skills in the class of French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme.

At first, highly influenced by Impressionism, Léger’s style witnessed a seismic shift. Viewing works by Paul Cézanne at Salon d’Automne had a great impact on Léger’s approach to form. During this period, he was also developing his unique Cubist vocabulary and presented his interpretation for the first time with his work Nudes in a Forest, showcased at Salon d’Automne in 1910. These early years were highly productive for the artist and he continued to refine his style, also presenting his first solo exhibition at Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris in 1912.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, Léger was drafted into the military and served at the frontlines in the Argonne Forest and Verdun from 1914-17. This experience heralded a new and extremely crucial phase in the artist’s visual trajectory. In what is now known as his ‘machine,’ period, his oeuvre receded from cubist and abstract works. Instead, industrial and machine-like objects became the central theme of his works. The rigidity of the composition was a reflection of the extreme living conditions on the front lines, depicting figures and objects characterized by tubular, machinelike forms. While Léger’s devotion to the visual representation of modern life remained unaltered, his aesthetic idiom continued to progress. Drawing inspiration from his association with founders of Purism Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfant, during the early years of 1920’s Léger created works by employing traditional subject matter such as the mother and child, female nude and couples and other figures in well-structured landscapes. Monikered ‘Tubism,’ by art critic Louis Vauxcelles, Léger’s simple forms became a hallmark of his innate views and experiences of the world.

His exploration of the intensity of the machine age also led him to broaden his art practice to other mediums including cinema with unconventional films such as Ballet mécanique, which he made in collaboration with writer Blaise Cendrars during the mid-1920s. With the beginning of World War II, the artist moved to the United States and stayed there till its end. The presented work executed in 1942 is titled Baigneuses sur la plage, and presents Léger’s brilliance with the medium of ink and paper. Returning to France in 1945, the artist spent his later years working and examining his surroundings through the lens of varied new media mediums such as stained glass, mosaic, and polychrome ceramic sculpture. The artist passed away in the year 1955. ;

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