Fernand Léger (1881 – 1955)

Fernand Léger was born in Argentan, Normandy, France in 1881 to a cattle trading family. Léger worked in a variety of media including paint, ceramic, film, theatre and dance sets, glass, print, and book arts. He started his career as an apprentice Architect in Caen, until 1899. After finishing his military training in 1903, he studied in Paris at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and Académie Julian. His early work was influenced from Impressionism; by 1909 Léger was painting Cubism works which his critics termed “Tubism” as a result of its tubular forms.

Léger’s experiences in World War I had a significant effect on his work. He produced many sketches of artillery pieces, airplanes, and fellow soldiers while in the trenches. In September 1916 he almost died after a mustard gas attack by the German troops at Verdun. His “mechanical” period, in which figures and objects are characterised by tubular, machinelike forms, began in 1917. He claimed that he forgot the abstraction of earlier work because of the “crudeness, variety, humour, and downright perfection of certain men around me, their precise sense of utilitarian reality and its application in the midst of the life-and-death drama we were in … made me want to paint in slang with all its colour and mobility.”

In the 1920’s Léger branched out into other modes of creativity; he made sets and costumes for ballet, illustrated books and created a film entitled, Ballet Mechanique. Léger first visited the USA in 1931 and relocated to New York City to escape World War II. Between 1940-45 Léger influenced many New York School painters. His unique form of Cubism, coupled with his bold use of colour, inspired Pop Artists.