Gouache and pen on ribbed, hand-made paper, mounted
Inv. No. SG 3342
34 × 24.5 cm
Dating from his so-called »mechanical period« (»période mécanique«) of the postwar years (1918–20), Fernand Léger’s Composition creates a powerful effect of self-containment with its balanced arrangement of elements and carefully chosen, cool palette. It convincingly applies a compositional principle based on contrasts, a pictorial language developed by Léger from his exploration of Cubism and its analysis of forms, and aiming to reflect the visual experience of man in the modern world.
Even before the outbreak of the First World War, Léger had been chiefly concerned with processing the optical stimuli of a culture defined by city-dwelling and industrialization. The raw materials of his work included the typography of Parisian advertising posters as well as machine parts and architectural details. In a manner almost purist, Léger created contrasting interplays – of lines and surfaces, of circular and rectangular shapes – and set up confrontations – between the three-dimensional and the two-dimensional and between forces of a static and those of a dynamic quality. Here, the pictorial space is occupied by numerous planar areas in black, white and the light ochre – unobtrusively broken in places – of the handmade paper. At first sight, the composition may appear to be an abstract assemblage of overlapping geometric forms, arbitrarily crowded together. A point of departure for the viewer is the concentrically divided semi-disc displaying a circular black shape with a section cut out of it at its centre and supported by a substructure on which it rests at an angle. This two-dimensional, object-like figure dominates the foreground of the vertical-format picture, but is tied into its surroundings by dynamic linear complexes. Three black forms, round and calm, guide the eye into the confusingly interlocked background, while the playfully decorative, linearly composed area between them – reminiscent of a cast-iron railing – suggests transparency.
In contrast, the right-hand third of the picture remains on a single plane, as is demonstratively emphasized by two isosceles triangles, one below the other. They are compartments of the stencilled letters U and V which, like the R at the top, look like borrowed two-dimensional shapes. The right-hand edge of the paper, which is left blank, is inconspicuously but obviously an essential part of the »composition«.
In the context of the art of the first half of the twentieth century, which in the Städel’s Department of Prints and Drawings is chiefly represented by German Expressionism, this drawing by Léger is an important statement of a contrary position.
- The Fishermen more