Artist biography

Fernand Léger 1881-1955

French painter and designer. Born in Argentan, Normandy. Apprenticed to an architect at Caen 1897-9. Moved to Paris in 1900 and worked as architect's draughtsman, also studying at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and the Académie Julian. Influenced from 1907 by Cézanne. Met Delaunay, Gleizes, the Douanier Rousseau and others; participated from 1909 in the Cubist movement and developed a semi-abstract Cubist idiom with dynamic contrasting tubular forms. First one-man exhibition at the Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris, 1912. Fought in the French Army 1914-17, and was excited by the beauty of machine forms. Paintings sometimes dynamic, sometimes static of subjects taken from modern industrial civilisation and objects such as keys, pipes, etc.; bold oppositions of colour. Friendship with Le Corbusier and Ozenfant. Collaborated on an experimental film Ballet Mécanique 1924, designed sets and costumes for the ballet, and experimented with mural painting. Took refuge 1940-5 in the USA, where he started to make compositions of divers, acrobats and cyclists. Returned in 1945 to France and in his last years was active not only as a painter but as designer for the ballet and of polychrome sculpture in ceramic, mosaics and stained glass. Series of figure paintings of construction workers, the circus, etc. Awarded the Grand Prix at the 1955 Sao Paulo Bienal. Died at Gif-sur-Yvette.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.416-17