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Fernand LÉGER | Les Trapézistes [Trapeze artists]
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Fernand LÉGER
France 1881 – 1955
USA 1940-45
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Les Trapézistes
[Trapeze artists]
oil on canvas
392.2 (h) x 372.9 (w) cm
signed and dated l.r., oil, "F LEGER 54"
Purchased 1981
NGA 1981.1679
© Fernand Léger. Licensed by ADAGP & VISCOPY, Australia
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Fernand Léger was born on 4 February 1881 in Argentan, Normandy, France. For a few years he worked as an apprentice to an architect in Caen and then, in 1900, he moved to Paris, where he supported himself as an architectural draughtsman. In 1903 he enrolled at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs but also attended classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts taught by Jean-Léon Gérômme and Gabriel Ferrier. By 1908 he was familiar with a number of artists including Alexander Archipenko, Robert Delaunay, Henri Laurens, Jacques Lipchitz, and also the writers Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, Max Jacob and Pierre Reverdy. He exhibited at the Salons d'Automne of 1909 and 1910 and at the Salon des Indépendants in 1910, where his paintings were labelled 'Tubist' by the critics. Through Daniel Henry Kahnweiler he met Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, and held his first solo exhibition at Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris, in 1912. After the First World War, during which he served in the French army, he exhibited at Léonce Rosenberg's Galerie de l'Effort Moderne. In the early 1920s Léger began an association with theatre, ballet and film that continued throughout his career. He designed sets for the Ballets Suédois, notably Skating rink 1922, La Création du monde (The creation of the world) 1923, and for Marcel L'Herbier's film L'inhumaine (The Inhuman One). In 1924, with the help of American cameraman Dudley Murphy, he completed his own experimental film Ballet Mécanique (Mechanical Ballet). In 1924 he also set up a studio with Amedée Ozenfant, where he taught classes with Alexandra Exter and Marie Laurencin. At the 'Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes' in Paris in 1925 he decorated the entrance of the Ambassade Française with Robert Delaunay and exhibited studies for mural paintings at Le Corbusier's Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau. He received his first museum retrospective in 1933, at the Kunsthaus, Zürich. During the 1930s he executed a number of large murals for pavilions at world fairs: in Brussels in 1935, in Paris in 1937, and in New York in1 939. He spent the Second World War in the United States, returning to Paris in 1945. Museum retrospectives were held regularly in Europe and the United States, and Léger received numerous commissions for murals and stained-glass windows of public buildings, including a mosaic façade for the church at Plateau d'Assy, Haute-Savoie, France (1949), mosaics for the American war memorial at Bastagne, Belgium (1950), a mural for the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations headquarters in New York (1952), and stained-glass windows for the church of Courafaivre, Switzerland. In 1952 Léger moved to Gif-sur-Yvette, Normandy. He died there on 17 August 1955.

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