Biography of Fernand Léger (1881-1955)

French Cubist painter, born on February 4, 1881 in Argentan, Normandy, and died on August 17, 1955 in Gif-sur-Yvette, France.

Between 1897 and 1899 is a student of an architect in Caen; in 1900 he/she moved to Paris, where he/she works as an illustrator of architecture, while studying at the Julian Academy. His first works date back to 1905 and are clear Impressionist influence. In 1907, as well as other Parisian artists, is deeply impressed by the retrospective of Cezanne. In this same year enter in contact with the first Cubism of Picasso and Braque. From the first moments, the Leger Cubism is oriented towards the development of the iconography of the machine. Naked in the forest (1909-1910), possibly inspired by the picture of Picasso's 1908 of the same title, the issue becomes a room full of artifacts and robots, where it seems to depart from the iron doctrine of Cézanne's painting from the cylinder and the cone; the sobriety of the colours, coupled with the frenzied activity of robots, creates a symbolic atmosphere of a new world and dehumanized. In some respects is a foretaste of Italian Futurism. In 1910 exhibition with Braque and Picasso at Kahnweiler Gallery where, in 1912, also makes his first solo. The following year he/she began to research on forms of machines represented with primary colors, sometimes reaching an abstract structure that is made more explicit with the titles, for example contrast of forms, of 1913, where approaching the ideas of Delaunay on the contrasts of color, while maintaining strong three-dimensionality of his early work. His fascination with geometric shapes and bright colors often brings on the verge of an abstract art, which has just been always rejecting. In staircase, 1914, repaints the figure and its surroundings, but building it using the abstract forms previously used.

Between 1914 and 1917 meets his military service. The war experience reveals the Visual possibilities of the machines as icons of modernity; Although his style was already predisposed towards this, thereafter used cylindrical and geometric shapes to devise a mechanized world, although, unlike the futurists, not dedicated to the machine, but that it wants to reconcile its metal and regular with organic forms, forms to build a humanistic vision. The city, in 1919, is a key work of Leger research on the relationship of reality with the painted surface. In this box controls the usual sculptural aspect of his painting through the architectural rigidity, establishing the primacy of the two-dimensionality of the picture plane; It uses various advanced methods of synthetic Cubism to get all kinds of illusionistic variations. In the works of this period which have as subject the city, the human figure appears depersonalised and mechanized, adapted to the environment that surrounds it. The artist translates the energy of contemporary life to pictorial equivalents; mass, colour and shape are confronted in a multiplicity of relationships, creating independent images that produce simultaneous sensations; levels are arranged in a balanced way and compositions are organized by areas well defined color pure, uniform and clearly delimited. "The pictorial elements of Leger, net, simple, varied, produce, as the ideal machines, effects of extraordinary power" (Flint).

In the early twenties he/she collaborated with the writer Blaise Cendrars in some films, and designed sets and costumes for the ballet suédois of Rolf de Maré. In 1923-1924 he/she worked in his first film without argument, Ballet mécanique, also mediated Man Ray. In 1924 he/she opened a workshop with Ozenfant, and in 1925 he/she makes his early murals in the Pavilion of the l'esprit Nouveau by Le Corbusier for the international exhibition of Arts Decorativas.Durante the twenties and thirties, Leger shows open to the styles that are developed. Some of his paintings from these years show influences of Kandinsky, De Stijl and Surrealism. What more developed at this time is the figure, in compositions such as three women (1921), where figures are impersonal, mechanical volumes modelled from the geometric background, giving one step further toward abstraction, at the same time that evokes an atmosphere of Art Deco. In pictures like this it is clearly approaching the purism of Ozenfant and Le Corbusier.

In 1931 first visit the United States and, in 1935, the Museum of modern art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago exposed his work. Between 1940 and 1945 he/she lives in the United States, and returned to France at the end of the war. During his stay in the United States, he/she is Professor of Yale University. In the last ten years of his life he/she makes illustrations from books, paintings of monumental figures, murals, stained glass, mosaics and polychrome sculptures in ceramic and theatrical scenery. In 1955 he/she won the Grand Prize of the São Paulo biennial. He/She died on 17 August of that same year in Gif-sur-Yvette, France.


ARNASON, H. H., History of the Modern Art, New York, Abrams Inc., 1986.

FLINT, Lucy, the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, New York, 1983.