1. William Curtis, 'Le Corbusier: nature and tradition, Chapter I in Le Corbusier - Architect of the Century, Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1987, page 15.
Fernand Léger's Les Constructeurs - définitif
The image on the front cover of Why is construction so backward? is Les Constructeurs - définitif, 1950, by Fernand Léger (1881-1955). It is held at the Musée National Fernand Léger, Biot, France. ©ADAGP, Paris, 2002. We are grateful to the Musée for the copyright to use the image, and it may not be reproduced in any form.
Fernand Léger was born in Argentan, Normandy, and was apprenticed to an architect in Caen from 1897 to 1899. He then worked as a draughtsman in an architect's office in Paris between 1900 and 1902, and in a photographic studio, retouching photos, from 1903 to 1904. In 1903, he failed the entrance examination for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and studied instead at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs and the Académie Julian. He was influenced by Cezanne.
From 1909 Léger was associated with the Cubists. During this period his tubular and curvilinear abstractions contrasted with the rectilinear forms produced by Cubist painters, and in particular by Picasso and Braque. Léger was the first of the Cubists to experiment with non-figurative abstraction. After being gassed during the First World War, he was discharged in 1917. He became a close friend of Le Corbusier and Le Corbusier's collaborator and publicist, Amédée Ozenfant. It was in 1917 that Le Corbusier and Ozenfant had published their Purist manifesto, Aprés le Cubism. (1)
In his collaboration with the Purists, Léger's works exemplified the machine aesthetic to which their movement aspired. His paintings were static, with the precise and polished appearance of machinery. He had a strong bent toward including representations of mechanical parts.
In the late 1920s and 1930s, Léger painted single objects isolated in space and sometimes amplified to gigantic size. He also produced theatrical decors, and worked with the cinema.
Léger visited America in 1931, 1935 and 1938 before taking refuge there from 1940 to 1945. In that time he taught at Yale University and at Mills College, California. After his return to France in 1945, his works reflected his interest in the working classes. Their static, monumental style remained, with flat and pure colours, heavy black contours and a continuing concern with the contrast between cylindrical and rectilinear forms. Les Constructeurs - définitif, executed in 1950, is a good example of his work after the war.
About the same time, Léger was working on windows and tapestries for a church at Audincourt. These were finished in 1951. The Musée National Fernand Léger was founded in his honour at Biot, with large ceramic panels that he designed in his studio from 1949. After his death in 1955, memorial retrospective exhibitions took place at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, in 1956 and at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, in 1957.
Léger had a considerable influence over many artists and was hailed as one of the greatest French painters of his time. His best works are now valued at up to $2 million.
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