Fernand Léger (Argentan, France, 1881-Gif-sur-Yvette, France, 1955) is present in the two events that mark the emergence of Cubism: Salón de los Independientes and Salón de Otoño in 1911. The poet and essayist Guillaume Apollinaire, in his Méditations esthétiques. Les peintres cubistes (1913), includes Léger in Orphic Cubism, which he defines as "The art of painting new compositions with elements that are not borrowed from visual reality, but which are entirely created by the artist and endowed with a powerful reality … It is pure art".
Although his work is akin to artists and art dealers of Cubism such as Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler or Léonce Rosenberg, Léger creates another path stemming from the radical geometrisation of Paul Cézanne’s language, which is evident in works such as The seamstress (1909-1910) o Smoke over rooftops (1911). The rejection of decomposition in planes of bodies in favour of a mechanical representation can be seen later in Woman in blue (1912) or in Staircase (1914). Leger is the protagonist in avant-garde discourse, and understands dynamism as a quality from his time, which springs from the excitement of modern life and the city as a stage, where anything mechanical has an artistic value.
The tubular Cubist language of the first decade of the 20th century with the dissociation between drawing and colour -a feature that identifies his work throughout his career- in the following decade gives way to a synthetic representation of objects. Léger begins to develop as a theorist and with his writings and lectures becomes one of the aesthetics exponents for the journal L'Esprit Nouveau, along with artists Amédée Ozenfant and Gino Severini.
Leger is known for his themes and the conception of a purified Cubism from the principles of order and composition, as presented in Bridge (1923) or Accordion (1926). In this thematic mechanistic and urban life are prevalent, but their vocabulary gradually turns towards organicist forms and solutions, as his paintings and drawings reveal, those like Composition cordage (1935) and Gloves (1933). Furthermore, the rounded volumes of the human figures monumentality show the combination of anatomical simplification, like in the La gran Julie (1945).
The artist develops his theory of contrasting shapes and colours from construction by reducing his palette to white, black, red, blue and yellow. Similarly, he passes through the theoretical and pictorial formulation of conceptual realism (1923-1925) -based on objective representation and free from all narrative- as seen in The Baluster (1925), until he reaches a monumental painting from the Thirties onwards, like in Adam and Eve (1935-1939), Composition with two parrots (1935-1939) or The Constructors (1950). The exhibition -organised jointly with the Centro Pompidou in Paris and the MOMA in New York- presents a rediscovery of Léger’s artistic career through more than one hundred pieces, from the representation of the intensity of mechanical life.
Musée National d'Art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (May 29 - September 29, 1997); The Museum of Modern Art, New York (February 11 - May 27, 1998)