Fernand Léger - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, June 29, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'Colour is a vital necessity. It is a raw material indispensable to life, like water and fire.' —Fernand Léger

     Immersing the viewer in his colourful and enigmatic world, Fernand Léger’s La partie de campagne was painted in 1953, two years before the end of the artist’s life. It was in the final decade of his career, when Léger returned to France in 1945 from his wartime exile in New York, that he had a renewed interest in landscape, and a desire to integrate groups of figures within outdoor environments. This theme was first explored in a final series of group figure compositions that Léger painted whilst in the United States between 1944-45, titled Les cyclistes. Léger’s intention in these works was for scene to appear like an instinctively posed photograph, influenced by the increasingly popular pastime of amateur photography with the advent of mass-produced, hand-held cameras. In 1951, Léger painted L'équipe au repos and from this picture he derived the landscape elements for his seminal series, La partie de campagne, which he worked on from 1952 to 1954.


    The stark characteristics developed from these latter series is exemplified in La partie de campagne. The bold application of red, yellow and blue in the present work are employed freely across the paper in a simultaneously geometric and undulating style. The implementation of simple block colours is reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s De Stijl movement which influenced Léger and impacted his artistic practice. Whilst Léger and Mondrian shared their passion for mechanisation, Léger could not abandon figuration for long and simultaneously let vehicles and machines be a source of inspiration for his work. Amongst the timeless landscape of La partie de campagne, the artist places the scene firmly in the 20th Century with a stylish motorcar on the left-hand side of the painting.



    Piet Mondrian, Composition with large red plane, yellow, black, gray and blue, 1921, Haags Gementemuseum, The Hague. Image: © Kunstmuseum den Haag / Bridgeman Images
    Piet Mondrian, Composition with large red plane, yellow, black, gray and blue, 1921, Haags Gementemuseum, The Hague. Image: © Kunstmuseum den Haag / Bridgeman Images


    Taking inspiration from the Impressionists, Léger enjoyed watching the world around him and absorbing the rhythm of modern life, proclaiming that ‘a slice of life seen from a cafe terrace is a spectacle.’i The present example has close associations with Édouard Manet’s famously scandalous painting of 1863, Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Léger echoes the well-dressed male, and the nude bathing women in his work, paying ode to Manet.


    Edouard Manet, Le dejeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), 1863, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Scala, Florence
    Edouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), 1863, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Scala, Florence


    Léger held socialist values close to his heart and firmly believed that art should be for everyone, having joined the communist party in 1945. As one of the first artists to use consumer society as subject matter, he took great pleasure in depicting workers, machinery and scenes of leisure. La partie de campagne highlights the new opportunities for the working class facilitated by modern technology and the introduction of holiday pay in 1936.


    Throughout his career, Léger experimented with a variety of media including film, set design, murals and posters to achieve what he perceived as the primary purpose of art- that it should be everyone. He advocated for museums to remain open into the evening so people could visit after work. These values translated through to his subject matter which was instantly appealing to all social classes. By flattening objects and using bold block colours, he pre-empts the pop art movement of the 1960s.

    'It is not the beauty of the thing one paints which counts, but the pictorial means by which the object is recreated.'
    —Fernand Léger

    La partie de campagne is an exquisite example that retains the geometric, cylindrical qualities of Léger’s earlier work whilst allowing his artistic maturity to emanate. The impactful legacy left by Fernand Léger can be seen directly through the artists he taught. Prominent artists he trained include Louise Bourgeois, Saloua Raouda Choucair, William Klein, Tarsila Do Amaral and Marlow Moss.


    Whilst experimenting with a multitude of avant-garde styles including Cubism, Futurism and De Stijl, Léger remained a true individualist, formulating a distinctive style throughout his five-decade-long career. His life and work have been celebrated with numerous major retrospective exhibitions around the world most recently at the Tate Liverpool in 2018; Centre Pompidou – Metz in 2017; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014 and in 1988 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


    i Fernand Léger, quoted in Edward F. Fry , ed., Functions of Painting, New York, 1973. p 35

    • Provenance

      Mme. Nadia Léger, Biot, Alpes-Maritimes
      Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paris
      Mrs Henry Walker, Jr. Evansville, Indiana
      R.S. Johnson International Gallery, Chicago
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1977

    • Exhibited

      Chicago, International Galleries, Fernand Léger (1881-1955) Retrospective Exhibition, November- December 1966. no 53, p.66 (illustrated, p.47)


La partie de campagne

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'F.L. 53' lower right
gouache and ink on paper
48.3 x 63.5 cm (19 x 25 in.)
Executed in 1953.

Full Cataloguing

£120,000 - 180,000 ‡ ♠

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey

Specialist, Associate Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+44 20 7318 4084


20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 29 June 2022