Fernand Léger

Keys (Composition)


Not on display

Fernand Léger 1881–1955
Original title
Les Clés (Composition)
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 651 × 537 mm
frame: 850 × 740 × 75 mm
Presented by Mrs Fanny Wadsworth 1951

Display caption

During the late 1920s Léger often adopted Surrealist strategies of juxtaposition, as with the grey-and-white keys and the yellow profile here, and irrational space. Yet Léger, like his friend Edward Wadsworth, was primarily concerned with the formal structure of a painting. Consequently the work's surreal elements are subordinated to his interest in combinations of shape and colour.

Wadsworth bought this picture from Léger after they met in Paris in the late 1920s.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Fernand Léger 1881-1955

N05990 Les Clés (Composition) (Keys (Composition)) 1928

Inscribed 'F. LÉGER. 28' b.r. and 'Nature-Morte | F. LÉGER. 28' on back of canvas
Oil on canvas, 25 5/8 x 21 1/8 (65 x 54)
Presented by Mrs F. Wadsworth in memory of Edward Wadsworth 1951
Prov: With Léonce Rosenberg (Galerie de l'Effort Moderne), Paris (purchased from the artist); Edward Wadsworth, London; Mrs F. Wadsworth, London

The photograph of this work in Léonce Rosenberg's records is entitled on the back 'Keys (Composition)' and is also listed as 'Keys'.

This picture appears to have been the second of three versions of this composition. It was evidently preceded by a smaller version in gouache on millboard, 38 x 26.5cm, formerly in the André Lefèvre collection (sold at the Palais Galliera, Paris, 1 December 1964, lot 58 repr.) and now in the Muzeum Sztuki at Lodz, which shows the profile the same way round, but is narrower in format. The gouache is slightly sketchier and has a number of minor differences, e.g. the line which passes near the region of the eye lacks the upper loop and continues to the edges of the picture at both ends, and there is a broad band of paler grey at the bottom, between the central white stripe and the segment or hair-like form on the right. In the third and probably final version, reproduced in Waldemar George, Fernand Léger (Paris 1929), p.31 as 'Two Keys', the composition is completely reversed so that the profile faces right instead of left. The composition otherwise follows the Tate Gallery painting fairly closely, except that it lacks the upper loop around the eye, like the gouache, and has a few differences of detail. Its present owner, Jorge S. Helft of Buenos Aires, writes that its dimensions are 92 x 73cm and that its colours are slightly different from the Tate's picture. 'The profile is bright orange, the background greyish blue, the central irregular patch black, and the long irregular patch dark green' (letter of 8 November 1971). The gouache is dated, probably in error, '24' (i.e. 1924), but the large version is dated like this 1928.

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, p.419, reproduced p.419

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