Fernand Leger

(Argentan, 1881 – Gif-sur-Yvette, 1955)


Fernand Léger was a French painter who was deeply influenced by modern industrial technology and Cubism. He developed “machine art,” a style characterized by monumental mechanistic forms rendered in bold colours.

Though Fernand Léger built his reputation as a Cubist, his style varied considerably from decade to decade, fluctuating between figuration and abstraction and showing influence from a wide range of sources. Léger worked in a variety of media including paint, ceramic, film, theater and dance sets, glass, print, and book arts. While his style varied, his work was consistently graphic, favoring primary colors, pattern, and bold form. Léger was born into a peasant family in a small town in Normandy. He served a two-year apprenticeship in an architect’s office at Caen, and in 1900 he went to work in Paris. In 1903 he enrolled in the Paris School of Decorative Arts; Léger was profoundly influenced by a retrospective of Paul Cézanne’s work at the Paris Salon d’Automne of 1907. In 1920, Léger married Jeanne-Augustine Lohy and also met Le Corbusier with whom he would remain close friends. He aligned himself closely with the circle around Le Corbusier who were interested in machinery and depicting speed and motion. During the 1920s he branched out into other methods of creative expression.

In 1924 that he founded a free school for modern art in Paris with Amédée Ozenfant where he taught alongside Marie Laurencin and Aleksandra Ekster.

His subject matter during the 1920s and 1930s reflected his interest in social equality. 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 and also administered a lecture series at Yale University called, "Color in Architecture."

On his return to France in 1945, he joined the Communist Party. His wife died in 1950 and he was re-married to Nadia Khodossevitch in 1952. Léger became increasingly interested in large-scale public art and in the years before his death produced mosaics, stained glass windows, and murals in Europe and South America. Fernand Léger died at his home in Gif-sur-Yvette, France on August 17, 1955.

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