Fernand Léger

(French, 1881-1955) 

“Man needs color to live; it’s just as necessary an element as fire and water.”

- Fernand Léger

Fernand Léger was born in rural Argentan, France to a poor family. His father was a cattle dealer and hoped his son would follow his career path that he believed was practical. His father initially discouraged his son’s desire to be an artist, however quickly became supportive after he witnessed his gift of drawing. With this approval, Léger enrolled in architecture school and after completion of his two-year internship moved to Paris where he worked as an architectural draftsman.

The artist was eager to further pursue his art education, and applied to the École des Beaux-Arts but was rejected. In 1903 he began attending the Paris School of Decorative Arts instead, and was also unofficially mentored by two professors from the École des Beaux-Arts who appreciated his potential. His original style was Impressionism blended with Fauvism, however he began to add Cubism to his pieces after attending a retrospective of Paul Cézanne.

In 1913 he began an abstract painting series, Contrast of Forms. Then, in 1914, he was enlisted to serve in the French Army during World War I, and put his art career on hold. In 1916 he was gassed at Verdun, and suffered a head injury that sent him home where he was hospitalized until 1917. After his recovery and the war, Léger returned to painting and also explored other mediums such as book illustrations, and set and costume designs for the theatre. He also opened his own school of Modern art in 1924, the same year he created his first film Ballet Mécanique.

In the 1920s and 30s Léger’s work matured and contained strong elements of modernism, specifically machinery and human figures with speed and movement. The arrival of World War II in 1940 caused Léger to relocate to America temporarily. In the United States, he produced a series of paintings called “Divers” that used large patches of color and overlapping lines. Six years later in 1946 he returned to France, where he revitalized his art school. The artist died in 1955 in Gif-sur-Yvette, France.

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