Fernand Léger

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Fernand Léger

Joseph Fernand Henri Léger (February 4, 1881August 17, 1955) was a French painter, sculptor, and filmmaker. He started his art in early cubism and developed a style in which the human figure in relation to the modern times was his central aim to represent. He and his art was engaged with communism and with the worker's life.

Quotes of Fernand Léger[edit]

1910s[edit]

Contemporary Achievements in Painting, Fernand Leger (1914)[edit]

Contemporary Achievements in Painting, Fernand Leger, 'Soirées de Paris', Paris 1914; as quoted in The documents of 20th century art, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1973
  • The Impressionists were the first [painters] to reject the absolute value of the subject and to consider its value to be merely relative.. .In Paul Cezanne’s letters I notice ideas like these: 'Objects must turn, recede, and live. I wish to make something lasting from impressionism, like the art in the museums'.. ..'For an impressionist, to paint after nature is not to paint the object, but to express sensations'.. ..'After having looked at the old masters, one must take haste to leave them and to verify in one’s self the instincts, the sensations that dwell in us.'
    • in 'Functions of Painting by Fernand Leger'; p. 11
  • When one crosses a landscape by automobile or express train, it becomes fragmented; it loses in descriptive value but gains in synthetic value. The view through the door of the railroad car or the automobile windshield, in combination with the speed, has altered the habitual look of things. A modern man registers a hundred times more sensory impressions than an eighteenth-century artist; so much so that our language, for example is full of diminutives and abbreviations.
    • in 'Functions of Painting by Fernand Leger'; p. 11
  • The compression of the modern picture, its variety, its breaking up of forms... .It is certain that the evolution of the means of locomotion and their speed have a great deal to do with the new way of seeing. Many superficial people raise the cry 'anarchy' in front of these pictures because they cannot follow the whole evolution of contemporary life that painting records.
    • in 'Functions of Painting by Fernand Leger'; p. 12
  • ..it [painting art] has never been so truly realistic, so firmly attached to its own period as it is today. A kind of painting that is realistic in the highest sense is beginning to appear, and it is here today.. .The advertising billboard, dictated by modern commercial needs, that brutally cuts across a landscape.. ..this yellow or red poster shouting in a timid landscape, is the best of possible reasons for the new painting; it topples the whole sentimental literary concept and announces the advent of plastic contrast.
    • in 'Functions of Painting by Fernand Leger'; p. 12
  • Naturally, in order to find in this break [in the visual perception] with time-honored habits a basis for a new pictorial harmony and a plastic means of dealing with life and movement, there must be an artistic sensibility far in advance of the normal vision of the crowd.
    • in 'Functions of Painting by Fernand Leger'; p. 12
  • From the day that the impressionists liberated painting, the modern picture set out at once the structure itself on contrasts; instead of submitting to a subject, the painter makes an insertion and uses a subject in the service of purely plastic means.. ..[the contemporary painter] must prepare himself in order to confer a maximum of plastic effect on means that have not yet been used. He must not become an imitator of the new visual objectivity, but be a sensibility completely subject to the new state of things.
    • in 'Functions of Painting by Fernand Leger'; p. 14
  • Contrast = dissonance, and hence a maximum expressive effect. I will take as an example a commonplace subject: the visual effect of curled and round puffs of smoke rising between houses. You want to convey their plastic value.. Here you have the best example on which to apply research into multiplicative intensities. Concentrate your curves with the greatest possible variety without breaking up their mass; frame them by means of the hard, dry relationship of the surfaces of the houses, dead surfaces that will acquire movement by being colored in contrast to the central mass and being opposed by live forms; you will obtain a maximum effect.
    • in 'Functions of Painting by Fernand Leger'; p. 14

1920s[edit]

  • The concept of Abstract painting is not a passing abstraction, good only for a few initiates, [but] the total expression of a new generation whose necessities it experiences and to all of whose aspirations it constitutes a response. (quote, 1920)
    • In: Abstract Painting, Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co., 1964, p. 16
  • This mechanical element, which one is sorry to see disappear from the screen, and which one is impatient to see again, is discreet; it appears only at intervals, and far off, like a spotlight that flashes on in a long, intermittent, harrowing drama of totally uncompromising realism. The plastic event is non-the less there and seems to me be laden with consequences both in itself and for the future. [on the filming of Abel Gance’s La Roue, 1922]
    • In: Fernand Léger - The Later Years -, catalogue edited by Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 21
  • The relationship of volumes, lines, and colors demands absolute orchestration and order. These values are all unquestionable influential; they have extended into modern objects such as airplanes, automobiles, farm machines, etc. Today we are in competition with the 'beautiful object'; it is undeniable. Sometimes its plastic qualities make it beautiful in itself and consequently unusable; one can only fold one’s arms and admire it. There is also today an astonishing art of window display. Certain store windows are highly organized spectacles.. .If, pushing things to extremes, the majority of manufactured objects and 'stored spectacles' were beautiful and had plasticity, we artists would no longer have any reason to exist.
    • Quote from 'Notes on Contemporary Plastic Life', in 'Kunstblatt', Berlin 1923; as quoted in The documents of 20th century art – Functions of Painting by Fernand Léger, in Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1973, pp. 24-25
  • Instead of opposing comic and tragic characters [as Molière and Shakespeare] and contrary scenic states, I organize the opposition of contrasting values, lines, and curves. I oppose curves to straight lines, flat surfaces to molded forms, pure local colors to nuances of gray. These initial plastic forms are either superimposed on objective elements or not, it makes no difference to me. There is only a question of variety.
    • Quote from 'Notes on Contemporary Plastic Life', 'Kunstblatt', Berlin 1923; as quoted in The documents of 20th century art – Functions of Painting by Fernand Léger, in Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1973, p. 25
  • ..the personification of the close-up detail, the individualisation of the fragment, where the drama takes shape, moves and have it being. Film concurs with this aspect for life. The hand is a multiple, transformable object. Before I saw it in a film, I did not know what a hand was! The object in itself is capable of becoming an absolute, moving, tragic thing.
    • 'L'ésthetique de la Machine - l’Ordre Géometrique et le Vrai', in Propos d’Artistes', 1925
  • I myself have employed the close-up, which is the cinema’s only real invention. The fragment of the object has also been of use to me; by isolating it you personalize it. All this work has led me to regard the phenomenon of objectivity as a new and highly contemporary value in itself [quote of c. 1927].
    • 'Autour de Ballet Méchanique', as quoted in Fernand Léger – The Later Years -, catalogue ed. Nicolas Serota; published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, pp. 21-22
  • These new means [in the modern film, 1920's] have given us a new mentality. We want to see clearly, we want to understand mechanisms, functions, motors, down to their subtlest details. Composite wholes are no longer enough for us – we want to feel and grasp the details of those wholes – and we realise that these details, these fragments, if seen in isolation, have a complete and particular life of their own.. .Close-ups in the cinema are a consecration of this new vision.. .A shoe as beautiful as a picture. A picture as beautiful as an X-ray machine.
    • 'Actualités, Fernand Léger', in 'Varietés nr. 1', 1928, pp. 522-23
  • The love of simplicity, precision and clarity, is totally Western. Today’s rational plastic form does not come from the Mediterranean or the Orient; it comes from the North [of France]. The North, younger, quicker less subtle, has seen straight to the heart of the new problem of construction that is posed by modern life.
    • Actualités, Fernand Léger, in Varietés nr. 1, 1928, pp. 523-524

1930s[edit]

  • The essential is the object. Error consists in forgetting that grain, cotton, wool are vital objects and in being interested in them only because of their value in gold, their speculative value. The economic purpose is not 'to make millionaires out of gasoline' but to distribute gasoline according to demand and need. [Wall street] is an abstraction.
    • exhibition catalogue, John Becker Gallery, New York, March 1933
  • The age we live in is largely – and I think mostly – 'objective', but a minority is reacting against this.. .My feeling is that I made colour – the colour plane – 'objective' in 1918, 1920 and 1921. There is a feeling of objectivity in all the great Primitives – but in 'the subject' there is no solution for the object, which has so much intrinsic value that it is 'highly explosive'; it destroys all the things around it, unless they have been designed specifically to serve as a setting for it.
    • letter to Simone Herman, September 3, 1933, as in quoted Fernand Léger - The Later Years -, catalogue edited by Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 28
  • An example: if I compose a picture using as objects a scrap of bark, a scrap of butterfly wing and a purely imaginary form, you probably won’t recognise the bark, or the butterfly wing, and you’ll say: 'What does this stand for? It is an abstract picture. No it’s a representational picture'.. ..There is no such thing as 'abstract', or 'concrete' either. There is a good picture and a bad picture. There is the picture that moves you and the picture that leaves you cold.. ..A picture has a value in itself, like a musical score, like a poem.
    • Un Nouveau Realisme, la Couleur Pure et l’Object, Fernand Léger, Ms 1935
  • The mural artist is concerned with bringing to life dead surfaces by the application of colour.
    • Revival of Mural Art, The Listener, August 25, 1937 Vol. XVIII. No. 450, pp. 408-409
  • It is from.. ..Renaissance that individualism in painting dates; and I do not believe there is any use in looking in this direction if we desire to bring into being a fresh mural art, one that shall be at once popular, collective and contemporary.
    • The New Realism goes on, F. Léger, Art Front, February 1937 pp. 7-8
  • ..a yellow square, a red and blue avenue, an Eiffel tower with a camouflaged silhouette.. ..that would all be lit up at night, instead of fireworks. [a proposal to Trotsky of a 'polychrome Moscow', for the 1937 exhibition].
    • In Fernand Léger – The Later Years -, catalogue ed. Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988; p. 60

1940s[edit]

  • Of the various plastic orientations developed over the past twenty-five years, abstract art is the most important, the most interesting… ..It is an extreme state which only a few creators and admirers are capable of achieving. The danger of this formula lies in the very elevation of its intention. Modelings, contrasts, objects have disappeared, leaving only very pure, very precise relations, and a few colors, a few lines; blank spaces, without depth. Add to this a respect for the vertical plane – thin, rigid, sharp. It is a true, incorruptible purism. [quote, 1945]
    • Fernand Leger, artist quotes & notes on Cubism and painting art: Abstract Painting, Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co., 1964, p. 33
  • It is a true, incorruptible purism.. .It is a religion that cannot be argued about. It has its saints, its disciples and its heretics. Modern life with its speed and tumult, dynamic and full of contrasts, beats furiously against this light, luminous, delicate structure, which emerges coldly from the chaos. Do not touch it, it is an accomplished fact. It had to be, it is there to stay. [quote, 1945]
    • Fernand Leger, artist quotes & notes on Cubism and painting art: Abstract Painting, Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co., 1964, p. 33
  • It’s not a country – it’s a world. It’s impossible to see the limits.. It’s only in Russia that I had a similar impression, but it wasn’t the same thing. In America you are confronted with a power in movement with force in reserve without end. An unbelievable vitality - a perpetual movement.
    • In: Letter from France, vol. 84, No 4, April 1946, pp. 46-62
La grande fleur qui marche, 1952, in The Hague
  • It is an outrage towards the masses.. ..It’s wanting to treat them as though they’re incapable of raising themselves up to this new realism [promoted by Léger and Le Corbusier ] which is that of their area, which they’ve made with their hands.. ..To want to say to these men 'the modern is not for you it’s an art for the rich bourgeoisie..' [attack on the notion of Social Realism art, c. 1949]
    • Fernand Léger - The Later Years -, catalogue edited by Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 58

1950s[edit]

  • At the same time we would most like to run the film back and see how the sanctuaries close again and the lights go out and the great powers of nature are once again met with deserved reverence. One can fell an oak in twenty seconds; but in order to become what it now is, it grew for a century.. ..Progress is but a word without sense, and the cow, which keeps the world alive, will not move faster than three kilometers per hour in the future, either. [quote, 1950]
    • Fernand Léger - The Later Years -, catalogue edited by Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 15
  • This is the visual world, using the most advanced advertising techniques that are familiar to the crowds in their daily life.. ..What kind of representational art do you want to inflict on these men then, when they’re solicited everyday by the cinema, radio, huge photo montages and advertising hoardings? How can you compete with these enormous modern mechanisms, which give you art to the 1000th degree? [quote, 1950]
    • Fernand Léger - The Later Years -, catalogue edited by Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 58
  • ..between ourselves, do you think a worker wants to hang a picture in his home where he sees himself sweating in a factory? He would prefer a bouquet of flowers or a pretty landscape. [critic on Aragon’s Social Realism, 1950]
    • Fernand Léger - The Later Years -, catalogue edited by Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 67
  • They are not like the – patron’s hands or the – blessing hands of the curate – They resemble their tools, mountains, tree trunks.. .The time is approaching when machines will – work FOR them – Then he will have hands like his boss – WHY NOT? – He’s on the way – HIS LIFE begins TODAY [written text in his painting 'Les mains – hommage a Majakovski', 1951 - Vladimir Mayakovsky was a Russian Futurist poet].
    • In: Fernand Léger – The Later Years -, catalogue ed. Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 68
  • One day I had painted a bunch of keys on a canvas, my bunch of keys. I didn’t know what to put next to them. I needed something that would be the absolute opposite of a bunch of keys. So when I finished work I went out. I had only walked a few yard when what should I see in a shop windows? A postcard of the Mona Lisa! At once I knew that was what I needed; what could have made a greater contrast to the keys?. ..Then I also added a can of sardines. It was such a strong contrast. [on his painting 'La Joconde aux Clés'].
    • La vie fait de l’Oeuvre de Fernand Léger, Dora Vallier, Cahiers d’Art, 2, 1954, p. 153
  • There was no telling who this head, or this leg, or that arm, belonged to.. .So I scattered the limbs in my painting and realized that in this way I was getting much closer to the truth than Michelangelo did when he concentrated on every separate muscle.
    • as quoted from the exhibition catalogue Fernand Legér, Paris, 1956
  • I venture out to the great 'sujet'; but, I repeat, my painting always remains object painting; it starts around 1936 with 'Adam et Eve'. My figures humanise themselves further, but I always stick to the pictorial circumstance – no eloquence, no romanticism -
    • Bekentnisse und Gespräche, Fernand Léger, André Verdet, Zürich 1957, pp. 32-33
  • Isn’t it human to go beyond the limits, to grow beyond oneself, to strive toward freedom! The round is free. [quote on the Circus, 1950s]
    • Fernand Léger - The Later Years -, catalogue edited by Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 17
  • The earth is round, so why to play it square? Beneath the sun and beneath the moon, in the clouds that sail gently by, everything is going round. Children dance in a ring; there is the Tour de France, and the bikes, and the eyes that look at them and frame them on the road.. .You leave your rectangles, your geometrical windows, and you go to the land of circles in action.. ..It’s human nature to break through boundaries, to grow, to push towards freedom. Roundness is free; it has no beginning and no end. [referring to the circus ring, 1950s]
    • Fernand Léger - The Later Years -, catalogue edited by Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 41

1960s[edit]

  • I wanted to proclaim a return to simplicity by ways of an immediate art without any subtlety, comprehensible to all. I love Louis David, because he is so anti-impressionist.. .I love the dryness in his work and also in that of Ingres. That was my way, and it touched me, instantly.
    • Kunst und Zeugnis, Dora Vallier, Zürich 1967, p. 62
  • I was attracted to Romanesque sculptures, to the complete re-invented figures and the freedom with which the Romanesque artist constructed them. He does not copy, he creates in a totally anti-Renaissance fashion can say that in Romanesque sculpture I have found a starting point for distortion.
    • Kunst und Zeugnis, Dora Vallier, Zürich 1967, p. 67

1970s[edit]

  • I dispersed my objects in space and got them to hold together by making them radiate forwards, out of the picture. It’s all an easy interplay of chords and rhythms made up of foreground and background colours, of conducting lines, of distances and of contrasts.
    • Exhibition catalogue Fernand Léger, Paris 1972, p. 91
  • Let us take the time in this fast and ever-changing life which harasses us and tears us to pieces; to have the strength to remain slow and calm. To work outside the elements of disintegration that surrounds us. To comprehend life in it slow and calm sense. The work of art requires a temperate climate in order to develop fully. In this heightened tempo which is the law of life, to determine fixed points to hold onto them and to slowly work on the achievement of the future
    • Fernand Léger – Das Figürliche Werk, exhibition catalogue, Köln, 1978, p. 52

1980s[edit]

  • In 1942 when I was in New York, I was struck by the neon advertisements flashing all over Broadway. You are there, you talk to someone, and all of a sudden he turns blue. Then the colour fades - another one comes and turns him red or yellow. The colour – the colour of neon advertising is free; it exists in space. I wanted to do the same in my canvases.
    • Legér and America, exhibition catalogue Fernand Léger, Buffalo 1982, p. 52
  • The time of the often criticized art without real subject [l’art pour l’art] and the art without object [ Abstract art ] seems to be over. We are experiencing a new return to the meaningful subject, which the common people can understand
    • Fernand Léger - The Later Years -, catalogue edited by Nicolas Serota, published by the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art gallery, London, Prestel Verlag, 1988, p. 12

Quotes about Fernand Léger[edit]

chronologically arranged
  • From our very first conversation in the Closerie des Lilas the day after the opening of the first exhibition of Futurist painting [in Paris, February 1912] I noticed that Fernand Léger was one of the most gifted and promising Cubists.. .Léger's article ['Les origins de la peinture et sa valeur representative', Mai 1913) is a true act of Futurist faith which give us great satisfaction - all the more so since the author is kind enough to mention us.
    • Umberto Boccioni (1914), his quote in Il dinamismo futurista et la pittura francese; as quoted in Futurism, ed. By Didier Ottinger; Centre Pompidou / 5 Continents Editions, Milan, 2008, p. 118
  • It is curious to note that the most intellectual kind of painting, the one that tries to reduce reality to its essential elements, is ultimately but a visual delight. All it has kept of the world is its color. This is apparent particularly in Léger.
    • Albert Camus 1942, The Myth of Sisyphus, "Absurd Creation".
      (The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays, trans. Justin O'Brien, Knopf, 1955, ISBN 0679733736)
  • One day w:Pierre Loeb said to me that the ideal picture is one which is completely clear in the artist's mind before he puts a mark on the canvas, and this was, at any rate in this period.. .Léger's opinion. It is the basis on which classical art is built. Therefore the setting-down of the picture on the canvas is in itself something quite unimportant. This is connected with Léger's hatred of textural effects in painting. But I love these effects. I remember that I was once told off because I had applied a thick layer of color instead of the thin and even layer that Léger wanted. To him that was not painting but mere color. If he could have got a machine instead of a brush to apply the color, he would have done so.
    • Asger Jorn, quote from his letter in 1952; as quoted on the website of the Jorn Museum: 'Articles' by Jorn
    • his critical comment on the art of Fernand Léger [Jorn started to follow his art teachings c. 1936, in Paris].
  • You can tell in Léger just when he discovered how to make it like an engine.. ..What’s wrong with that? You see it in Barney (= Barnett Newman) too, that he knows what a painting should be. He paints as he thinks painting should be, which his pretty heroic
    • Franz Kline (1958), in Evergreen Review, vol. II, (no 6) autumn 1958, p. 11-15
  • Léger was a big, avuncular, kindly sort of man, as I remember him. And he would look at what I — [laughs] — put there, and he'd find something. He only made one or two comments. The one I remember was, "Ça, ça saut de la peinture ." He'd find a place, and he'd say: "That jumps out of the painting." Or he'd say: - he had this, I think, Norman accent - "Ça commence:" [Laughs.] "That's beginning." And those two - no - but he had body language, too. You knew if he liked it or if he didn't like it by watching him.
    • Dore Ashton, her quote from 'Oral history interview with Dore Ashton', conducted by George W. Sampson at Ashton's home in New York 2010; November 21 - 2011 March 9; Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

External links[edit]

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