Fernand Léger

Fernand Léger (1881, Argentan, France - 1955, Gif-sur-Yvette, France) settled in Paris in 1900 and supported himself as an architectural draftsman. He was refused entrance to the École des Beaux-Arts but nevertheless attended classes there beginning in 1903; he also studied at the Académie Julian. Léger’s earliest-known works, which date from 1905, were primarily influenced by Impressionism. The experience of seeing the Paul Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d’Automne in 1907 and his contact with the early Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque had an extremely significant impact on the development of his personal style. From 1911 to 1914 Léger’s work became increasingly abstract, and he started to limit his color to the primaries and black and white. In 1912 he was given his first solo show at Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris.

Though Fernand Léger built his reputation as a Cubist, his style varied considerably from decade to decade, fluctuating between figuration and abstraction and showing influence from a wide range of sources. Léger worked in a variety of media including paint, ceramic, film, theater and dance sets, glass, print, and book arts. While his style varied, his work was consistently graphic, favoring primary colors, pattern, and bold form. Léger embraced the Cubist notion of fracturing objects into geometric shapes, but retained an interest in depicting the illusion of three-dimensionality. Léger's unique brand of Cubism was also distinguished by his focus on cylindrical form and his use of robot-like human figures that expressed harmony between humans and machines.

Influenced by the chaos of urban spaces and his interest in brilliant, primary color, Léger sought to express the noise, dynamism, and speed of new technology and machinery often creating a sense of movement in his paintings that captured the optimism of the pre-World War I period. In its embrace of recognizable subject matter and the illusion of three dimensionality interspersed with or often simultaneous with experiments in abstraction and non-representation, Léger's work synchronizes the often competing dualities in much of twentieth-century art.

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