Fernand Léger - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • A Legendary Provenance

    An exquisite work with rich history, Fernand Léger's Untitled Composition belongs to the coveted Weatherbird portfolio of watercolors the artist created on the eponymous yacht owned by Sarah and Gerald Murphy – the legendary American expatriates who inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night.

    Gerald Murphy, Genevieve Carpenter, Cole Porter and Sara Murphy in Venice, 1923


    The eccentric American couple, who had expatriated to Paris during the prohibition years, hosted numerous intellectuals and artists, including the likes of Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway, aboard their famous two-masted schooner Weatherbird.



    Sara and Gerald Murphy's yacht, Weatherbird.

    In the summer of 1934, Léger joined Sara and Gerald Murphy in Antibes in the South of France on the Weatherbird. As Gerald Murphy recalled the trip:

    "During the first day out the sea was smooth and Fernand, who had never been aboard a sailing vessel, was fascinated with the rigging and all the contrivances on board. He had brought a notebook and a few watercolors with him and he spent the entire day making sketches. He had never worked under such conditions and it stimulated him enormously. The second day out the weather turned bad as we encountered Mistral. Very much to his surprise he did not feel the rough sea as he expected and persisted in his work. He made quite a joke of his being able to remain at his post while some of the rest of us were unable to do so. It was for this reason that he wrote on the cover of the notebook, 'A Sara et Gerald de leur mousse fidèle [To Sara and Gerald, from their loyal cabin boy'." 

    Untitled Composition  beautifully captures this nautical experience and was included in The Museum of Modern Art's exhibition The Paintings of Gerald Murphy in 1974.

    The present work in The Paintings of Gerald Murphy at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 9, 1974–May 19, 1974. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. IN1059.5. Photograph by Katherine Keller.


    • Provenance

      Sara and Gerald Murphy, France (gifted directly by the artist)
      Mrs. William Donnelly (acquired from the above by descent)
      Maxwell Davidson Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1982)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in the early 1980s

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Paintings of Gerald Murphy, April 9 – May 19, 1974
      New York, Maxwell Davidson Gallery, Fernand Léger, January - February 1984

    • Literature

      "Photocopies of Léger's sketchbook from his sailing trip with the Murphys in 1934", Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Sara and Gerald Murphy Papers, box 110, folder 1152 (illustrated)

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection, Florida


Untitled Composition

signed with the artist's initials and dated "FL 34" lower right
watercolor and graphite on paper
12 5/8 x 9 1/2 in. (32.1 x 24.1 cm)
Executed in 1934.

Full Cataloguing

$18,000 - 22,000 

Sold for $28,750

Contact Specialist

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

20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 2 July 2020