Fernand Léger

Dates1881 - 1955

Fernand Léger captured the pulse and dynamism of everyday life: from the bustling city teeming with advertising and signage to mechanical marvels powered by heroic workers. To convey this modern energy, Léger developed a forceful visual language of shape, color, and line. In an effort to reconcile art making and social responsibility, he applied his unique visual language to a range of media--from painting to sculpture to film--in search of a broad audience.

Raised in northern France, Léger began painting seriously after moving to Paris in 1903. He explored a variety of styles before settling on a Cubist-influenced approach marked by simple, geometric forms. Léger believed that the accelerated pace of contemporary life required an art of strong contrasts. He emphasized fragmented planes and jarring juxtapositions in shape and color.

The outbreak of World War I interrupted Léger's progress, but his service in the French army transformed Léger. His admiration for his fellow soldiers convinced him to make art that could reach a broad audience. After the war, he began using a brighter palette to represent mechanical forms inspired in part by the cannons, airplanes, and machines of war he had experience on the battlefield. He started working in a variety of mediums: creating prints and book illustrations, stage sets and murals, and a number of celebrated films. He would continue this exploration throughout his career; in the 1940s and 1950s, he created work in stained glass, tapestry, and ceramic. During World War II, Léger lived in America. On returning to France, he joined the Communist Party. In a continued effort to reach the public, his work became more ordered and focused on the human form. An accomplished writer and theorist, Léger argued that art needed to learn from the techniques of mass media, such as film and advertising, to communicate with the public. Léger sought to achieve this goal by installing his sculptures in visible, public sites.