Fernand Léger - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, May 16, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The Artist
    Georges Bauquier, Biot
    Simone Bauquier, Biot
    Camard & Associés, Paris, June 9, 2010, lot 105
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    A pioneer of the Cubist movement, Fernand Léger developed a graphic style that became instantly recognizable, merging bold black lines with vibrant primary colors. By the middle of the 20th century the artist began to experiment with a diverse range of media, producing tapestries, mosaics, stained-glassware and ceramics. The following four unique ceramic works were each created in 1952, when Léger was at the height of his fame.

    Léger became involved with ceramics around 1949 after collaborating with the sculptor Mary Callery during his exile to the United States. Upon his return to France, Léger suggested to his friend and student Roland Brice that they embark on the creation of polychrome sculptures. His decision to refer to these works as “polychrome sculptures”, relegating the term “ceramic” only to the material, highlights his conception of these ceramics as color and form deployed in space. Occupying a privileged position in his artistic practice, ceramics became a unique place of renewal in his pictorial work. Like Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Georges Braque during the same time period, Léger learned the ceramic technique during regular trips to the Côte d'Azur; but unlike these artists, he did not decorate everyday objects, such as pots, plates, or jugs. It was not his desire to enhance existing forms, but instead to revitalize his own compositions by projecting them into space.

    Resisting his monumental compositions from the same era, Léger’s early ceramics were executed in a modest size, featuring simple subjects in contrasting colors isolated on a plain background: still life, flowers, fruit, and the face. The latter motif serves as the focal point for three of the following four works in question, including Visage en creux (rouge et vert), Figure de femme, and Les deux profils, the first of which was included in one of Léger’s first exhibitions of sculpture held in 1953 at Galerie Louis Carré & Cie, Paris. Each of the human faces are broken up with black lines, adding intensity to the entire images and acting like the leading in stained glass, serving to push the colors to the fore.

    In the first lot from this section, Composition, Léger chooses not to depict a recognizable subject, but rather an abstract scene in a sculptural form. Léger contributes a sense of texture and depth to this striking image, its glossy finish catching the light at varied angles depending on the position from which it is viewed. In part, this relief recalls his large-scale sculpture The Walking Flower produced in the same year, in which the central form turns into an anthropomorphic character with legs, combining simple form with a powerful monumentality. After the creation of this work, Léger would go on to produce monumental projects designed for public spaces, which became an important part of his legacy.

    Equally important to the ceramic work of Léger was his student and collaborator Roland Brice, whose goal was to translate Léger’s unique style into ceramics. While Brice would look at technical aspects of production, developing a brilliant enamel finish, Léger conceived the design, shaping the final relief and applying bright color. With prodigious inventiveness and a keen understanding of his former teacher's aesthetic concepts, Brice brought the third dimension to Fernand Léger's painted works from the kilns of the studio located in the valley of Biot. He began by interpreting the patterns from Léger’s 1930s gouaches and easel paintings, then producing remarkable polychrome works in vivid colors in both red and glazed white clay. Brice gave voice to Léger's compositions, bringing the projects to fruition with meticulous skill. In the spirit of bold innovation, Léger made adjustments to the reliefs, touching up flat areas, molding shapes, contrasting contours with strong lines, and bright colors with matte tones, while Brice masterfully executed Léger's vision, with their contrasting effects playing on the balance between reliefs and shapes.



signed with the artist's initials and dated "F.L. 52" lower right; further titled and inscribed "No. 9/1 Composition" on the reverse
painted and glazed ceramic
14 1/2 x 24 in. (36.8 x 61 cm.)
Executed in 1952, this work is unique.

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $43,750

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2018