Fernand Léger was born on 4 February 1881 in Normandy, France, as the son of a cattle dealer. His early work was influenced by Impressionism, but from 1909 he turned to Cubism. He developed his own style with clear geometric forms. His late work had a great influence on American Pop Art. Léger's unmistakable style makes him one of the most important French painters of modernism.
From 1903 to 1904 Léger attended the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and began his career as an architectural draughtsman. His early work was influenced by his encounter with the art of Cézanne and his contact with the Parisian avant-garde. In 1908 he moved into a studio in a Parisian artists' colony, where he worked with Marc Chagall, Henri Laurens and others. Léger also joined a collective of artists from the "Section d'Or", who met regularly for art theoretical discourses on Cubism. These were primarily concerned with the works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, which led to an interaction between inspiration and demarcation. From 1910 onwards, Léger was able to exhibit regularly at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler's renowned gallery. He was drafted during the First World War and was seriously wounded in 1917. From then on, his works dealt with the relationship between people and machines. This pictorial theme is known as the "période mécanique". He deconstructs man and objects into the forms of cones, spheres and cylinders, which are unmistakable to him. He finds his own even more stringent geometric language of forms. He layers and stacks elements like building blocks to create perfectly shaped still lifes and figure paintings. In the 1920s he also created his first stage and film decorations and made the experimental film "Le ballet mécanique". In the 1930s Léger travelled several times to the USA. His painterly style became more naturalistic again and surrealistic elements were introduced. This development brought flowing lines and curves. In the USA he increasingly devoted himself to the working class and an art of social engagement. He remained in New York from 1940 to 1945 and returned to Paris after the end of the war. Around 1950 Léger develops a post-cubist formal language combined with a strong realism of representation. His colourful late work had a strong impact on American Pop Art. An exciting connection, to which the exhibition Fernand Léger - Paris-New York at the Fondation Beyeler 2008 was dedicated. Léger died on August 17, 1995 in Gif-sur-Yvette near Paris.