Fernand Léger was born on 4 February 1881 in Argentan in Normandy and began his career working as an architectural draughtsman. From 1903 to 1904 he attended the École des Arts décoratifs in Paris; however, it was Cézanne’s art and his contact with the avant-garde in Paris that really shaped his art. He joined the Section d’Or, a group that was linked with but clearly distinct from Picasso’s Cubism.
As early as 1910 he started exhibiting his work regularly at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s acclaimed gallery. In the First World War he was called up for military service and seriously wounded in 1917. In 1940 he moved to the USA where he taught at various universities, returning to Paris after the war ended where he later died on 17 August 1995 in Gif-sur-Yvette near Paris.
Fernand Léger’s unmistakeable style can be identified as early as 1909 and consists of simplifying the world into the shapes cone, sphere and cylinder. Within this rigid formal framework and influenced by Orphism he introduced planes of pure, vibrant colours. The resulting contrast in colours and forms became fundamental to Léger’s paintings and did not alter with the shifting emphasis of his compositions and subject-matter. The war prompted the ‘période mécanique’ in his work in which humanity mutated into a mechanical object, only reemerging in human form in the 1920s under the influence of Neoclassicism. Surrealism inspired flowing lines and curves; in the USA the artist increasingly dedicated his work to the world of workers and a socially committed art. In around 1950 Léger developed in his depictions a post-Cubist formal language combined with bold naturalism.