Fernand Léger at Bozar: Of Tubes and Men

© SABAM Belgium 2018
| Fernand Leger, Les Loisirs-Hommage à Louis David (1948)

Through a hundred major works, Bozar retraces the career of Fernand Léger, poet of modernity and great inventor of forms. Remaining faithful to painting for five decades, he never ceased to reinvent it by engaging with other forms of art. 

The French artist Fernand Léger, a devotee of modernity, the city, and mass gatherings, fills the viewer with optimism. Since his figures are relatively expressionless, he makes his colours smile. This is because he sees beauty everywhere, even, as he said himself in 1923, “in the arrangement of your saucepans, in the white wall of your kitchen.”

Throughout his career, Fernand Léger never put down his paintbrushes for very long. Always deeply attached to traditional painting technique (and to turpentine, as some of his friends would tease), he never ceased to reinvent it. In a world transformed by speed and technological progress, he was convinced that it was no longer possible to paint the way people did in the nineteenth century.

This exhibition, mounted in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou Metz, not only presents canvases of all sizes, from the small to the monumental, but also films, drawings, models, and photographs which reveal Léger’s fascination with forms.

1602 Fernand Leger
Fernand Léger

We sometimes think he can be summed up by his massive silhouettes of gentlemen with boaters and moustaches, his bicycles, circus tents, and factories, but he is an utterly unique artist. Impossible to separate from the age in which he lived, he is also one of the few to have been a part of every artistic movement of the twentieth century, fauvism, cubism, futurism, surrealism, and socialist realism, without ever losing his independence and coherence.

Swept away by the artistic fervour of early twentieth-century Paris, he became absorbed with cubist deconstruction, though he never completely committed to it.

In the years leading up to the First World War, he approached abstraction in the manner of someone walking along the edge of a cliff without ever taking the plunge.

After three years of war spent in mud and gloom, he returned to reality, with a desire to embrace the vitality of colour. It was during this period that he defined his signature style. From a cubist, he became what the malicious termed a “tubist”, abandoning perspective in his canvases, without ever going so far as to renounce form.

We sometimes think he can be summed up by his massive silhouettes of gentlemen with boaters and moustaches, his bicycles, circus tents, and factories, but he is an utterly unique artist. Impossible to separate from the age in which he lived, he is also one of the few to have been a part of every artistic movement of the twentieth century, fauvism, cubism, futurism, surrealism, and socialist realism, without ever losing his independence and coherence.

Swept away by the artistic fervour of early twentieth-century Paris, he became absorbed with cubist deconstruction, though he never completely committed to it.

In the years leading up to the First World War, he approached abstraction in the manner of someone walking along the edge of a cliff without ever taking the plunge.

After three years of war spent in mud and gloom, he returned to reality, with a desire to embrace the vitality of colour. It was during this period that he defined his signature style. From a cubist, he became what the malicious termed a “tubist”, abandoning perspective in his canvases, without ever going so far as to renounce form.

1602 Fernand Leger3
Fernand Léger

Far from being an artist limited to a few subjects and a single style, he was incredibly versatile, often venturing beyond painting, and in doing so, renewing his appetite for painting. The 1920s were a particularly fertile period for artistic collaborations. He produced the sets for the Marcel L’Herbier film L’inhumaine, as well as costumes and the backdrop for La création du monde by the Ballets Suédois. He also made a film of his own, Ballet Mécanique, and collaborated with the architects Le Corbusier and Robert Mallet-Stevens.

In the 1930s, he took on numerous decorative projects: frescos, stained glass, and mosaics, with which he was often helped by his students and assistants. Le Transport des Forces, a large monumental canvas at the beginning of the exhibition, for example, was made entirely by his students.

A member of the Communist Party, though not an activist, he always wanted to take art out of the museums and place it in the city and in people’s lives. His fascination with the beauty of daily life and with advertising, which he considered an authentic form of popular art, also make him a legitimate precursor of pop art and even of street art.

> Fernand Léger: Beauty is Everywhere. Bozar, Brussels. 9/2 > 3/6

1602 Fernand Leger2
Fernand Léger is one of the few to have been a part of every artistic movement of the twentieth century, fauvism, cubism, futurism, surrealism, and socialist realism, without ever losing his coherence.
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