Catalogue entry

Fernand Léger 1881-1955

T02035 Nature Morte à la Chope (Still Life with a Beer-Mug) 1921-2

Inscribed 'F. LÉGER' b.r. and 'NATURE-MORTE | F. LEGER. (ETAT | DEFINITIF) | 1921' on back of canvas
Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 23 5/8 (92 x 60)
Purchased at Christie's (Grant-in-Aid), with the aid of the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1976
Prov: With Galerie Simon, Paris (purchased from the artist); Dr G.F. Reber, Lausanne, 1926; with Frau Walter Feilchenfeldt, Zurich, 1956; with Marlborough Fine Art, London, 1958; Gustav Zumsteg, Zurich, 1961; Zumsteg sale, Christie's, London, 6 April 1976, lot D, repr. in colour
Exh: FernandLéger 1881-1955, Haus der Kunst, Munich, March-May 1957 (32) as 'Küchenstilleben' 1921; Kunsthalle, Basle, May-June 1957 (29); Kunsthaus, Zurich, July-August 1957 (37); Some Aspects of 20th Century Art, Marlborough Fine Art, London, July-August 1961 (19, repr.) as 'Nature Morte dans la Cuisine'; Fernand Léger, Musée Cantini, Marseilles, July-August 1966 (30) as 'La Chope'; Chefs-d'Oeuvre des Collections Suisses, Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, May-September 1967 (236, repr.); A la Rencontre de Pierre Reverdy et ses Amis, Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul, March-May 1970 (341, repr.) as 'Nature Morte à la Chope'; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, June-July 1970 (341, repr.); FernandLéger, Grand Palais, Paris, October 1971-January 1972 (72, repr.)
Repr: E. Tériade, Fernand Léger (Paris 1928), pl.47 (first state); Douglas Cooper, Fernand Léger et le Nouvel Espace (London-Geneva-Paris 1949), p.93 as 'Nature Morte dans la Cuisine (1922)' (first state); The Tate Gallery 1976-8 (London 1978), in colour on cover

This picture is inscribed on the back 'Etat définitif [i.e. final state] 1921,' but appears in the Galerie Simon records as a work of 1922. It was acquired by the Galerie Simon at the same time as nine other pictures and five crayon drawings by Léger, and the whole series is dated in their records 1922, except one painting called 'Two Fishermen' which is dated 1921. This suggests that the year of execution was fixed with some care for each work.

The original Galerie Simon photograph, taken when the picture was first acquired, shows several minor differences, which make it clear that the picture was subsequently reworked, probably soon afterwards. The criss-crossed rectangle towards the bottom left originally had a smaller disc at the centre which appears to have been enlarged and painted a different colour; the black disc immediately above it was made more circular; and the vertical area towards the top left, with two circular patches one above the other, originally had two double horizontal stripes across it which were afterwards overpainted in white (but are now beginning to show through again).

There is a pencil study for this composition measuring 38 x 25.4 cm and dated 1921 in the Lydia and Harry Lewis Winston collection (Dr and Mrs Barnett Malbin, New York), which has less patterning and is slightly more realistic in treatment. Among other differences, there are handles on the two drawers and the diamond pattern on the floor is inclined sideways (suggesting recession) instead of being aligned vertically parallel to the picture plane; and the sides and top of the composition are treated with an austere simplicity, instead of being crowded with contrasting patterns.

There is also a smaller and sketchier preliminary version (repr. Burlington Magazine, CXIV, February 1972, in oil on canvas, 65 x 46cm, which is much closer to the final state. However it is not so long and narrow in format, the diamond pattern on the floor is more irregular and extends down the lower part of the left-hand side and there is very little white along the bottom. In addition (to cite the principal differences), it lacks the lower black disc on the left-hand side and the blue rectangle above it with the undulating line and the three spots, but has a row of dots along the dark horizontal stripe towards the top right.

In painting the final version and again in his later modifications to it, Léger made a number of adjustments to the distribution and balance of the contrasting patterns, so that the composition became progressively more and more precise and vibrant. This enhanced those features which appear to anticipate, to a degree exceptional in his work, both the Op art of Vasarely and the Pop art of Roy Lichtenstein.

The beer mug appears to be of a type especially popular in Bavaria.

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.417-18, reproduced p.417