A Fernand Léger Painting Acquired by the Metropolitan


Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
The Village, 1914
Oil on canvas - 80x 100 cm.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo : Metropolitan

20/9/13 - Acquisition - New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art - He promised to donate 78 Cubist works to the Metropolitan Museum, among them some masterpieces ; over the years, the collector Leonard Lauder assembled creations by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and Juan Gris which are to be presented to the public in New York during an exhibition in 2014-2015. In the meantime, the museum, with the help of this same donor, purchased a painting by Fernand Léger, entitled The Village, produced in 1914, which came up on the art market and will be a welcome addition to the collections since the Met did not own any works by this artist produced before the First World War.

Known for his interpretations of modernity, notably in urban paintings, Léger here presents a more rural landscape not showing any interest however in the bucolic charm or sentimental value of nature. He seems rather to recompose the fragments of a reality glimpsed in passing through the window of a train or a car, representing the houses in the shape of cubes, cones and pyramids, surrounded by round trees which form a circle and designate perhaps the outline of city ramparts. The painting reflects a crucial period in the artist’s work when, just before the war, he introduced movement into his canvases by opposing volumes (pyramids or cones) and lines (curved or straight), toying with "contrastes de formes" as he said : contrasts in forms, but also colors which were pure, as well as values (black and white) which he juxtaposed. The canvas gives an impression of being incomplete, reinforcing the dynamic character of the composition. Léger creates his own style of cubism, edging closer to abstraction in order to liberate himself from Cézanne. He said it himself : "in 1912-1913, there was a battle to leave Cézanne. The pull was so strong that to distance myself from it, I had to go as far as abstraction."

Another version of this canvas resides at the Sprengel Museum in Hannover. Between 1912 and 1914, the artist painted an ensemble of paintings very similar to these two, such as Houses under the Trees (1914) at the Kunstmuseum in Basel in which we find the same motifs and the same composition, as well as in a painting which came up for auction at Christie’s and another one residing at the LAM, almost abstract. One painting stands out from the rest, placing the trees in a line at the center, splitting the composition in two instead of encircling the village. Among the 78 works to be donated by Leonard Lauder, a work by Fernand Léger entitled Houses under the Trees (1913) is apparently part of the same series.

Version française


Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 20 septembre 2013



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