Modern and Contemporary Art
Contrast of FormsMade in France, Europe
Fernand Léger, French, 1881 - 1955
Oil on burlap© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
51 1/4 x 38 7/16 inches (130.2 x 97.6 cm)
Currently not on view
1950-134-123The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950
LabelThis is one of a series of works entitled Contrast of Forms that Fernand Léger painted in 1913, shortly after giving a lecture at the Académie Wassilief in Paris. In this celebrated talk Léger argued for the independence of painting from its traditional role of representation and proposed instead that it should express the experience of living in a modern technological environment through nonrepresentational contrasts of lines, shapes, and colors. Clear references to the figure or landscape disappeared from the artist’s com-positions as he attempted to attain the greatest possible dynamism and dissonance through abstract forms represented in bold, primary colors.
With Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paris . With Galerie Pierre, Paris, by 1930; sold to de Hauke & Co., New York, March 13, 1930 (stock no. 3413) ; possibly sold to [Elmer?] Rice, c. 1934? ; with Modern Paintings, Inc., New York (stock no. 3413); sold to Louise and Walter C. Arensberg, Los Angeles, through Howard Putzel (dealer), San Francisco, as agent, February 20, 1935 ; gift to PMA, 1950.
1. According to Bauquier, Léger: Catalogue Raisonné (1990), no. 52.
2. Archives of American Art, Jacques Seligmann & Co. Records / Series 9.7.1 / Box 408 / f. 4 / De Hauke & Co., Inc. Records / Purchase Book, 1926-1931 (copy in curatorial file). De Hauke & Co., headed by César Mange de Hauke, was a branch of Jacques Seligmann & Co., New York, established by Germain Seligman in 1926.
3. The Arensbergs, through Galka Scheyer, tried to buy the painting in 1933-1934, having seen it at an exhibition in Los Angeles and (apparently) in Léger's studio. Léger replied to Scheyer on 17 July 1934 that the painting in question, which had belonged to the Seligmann Gallery in New York, had been sold the previous winter for $800 "to the writer Rice" (Scheyer papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, microfilm frame 434-435; originals in the Blue Four-Galka Scheyer Archives, Norton Simon Museum). This was possibly the well-known playwright Elmer Rice (1892-1967), a collector of modern art through the 1920's and 30's. In his 1962 autobiography Minority Report, he notes that c. 1933-34, at the height of the Depression, he was able to buy from dealers at absurdly low prices many works by leading modern artists, including Léger (p. 337). However, no record of this purchase has yet been discovered in the Seligmann & Co. archives.
4. See Archives of American Art, Jacques Seligmann & Co. Records / Series 7.8 / Invoice Books / Box 311 / f. 1 (stock no. 3413). Modern Paintings, Inc., a subsidiary of Jacques Seligmann & Co., was established in 1930 to incorporate most of the inventory of the liquidated de Hauke & Co. Walter Arensberg noted that he and Louise first saw the painting at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor but were told the wrong price, and so did not pursue the painting until notified by Putzel of the correct price (letter to César M. de Hauke of Seligmann & Co., May 28, 1935; AAA, Seligmann Records / Series 1.3 / Box 9 / f. 8).
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