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Contrast of Forms
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Contrast of Forms

Fernand Léger, French, 1881 - 1955

Made in France, Europe


Oil on burlap

51 1/4 x 38 7/16 inches (130.2 x 97.6 cm)

© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 272, Modern and Contemporary Art, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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This is one of a series of works entitled Contrast of Forms that Léger painted in 1913 and 1914, the years when he first outlined his artistic philosophy in two celebrated lectures in Paris. He argued for the independence of painting from its traditional role of representation and proposed instead that it should attain the greatest possible dissonance and “intensity” by means of contrasting shapes and colors. The amplified effect of contrast would create in painting an “equivalent” to the experience of modern life. Here, the juxtaposition of dark hues and bright highlights and the impression of flickering motion recall the moving images of film.


With Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paris [1]. With Galerie Pierre, Paris, by 1930; sold to de Hauke & Co., New York, March 13, 1930 (stock no. 3413) [2]; possibly sold to [Elmer?] Rice, c. 1934? [3]; with Modern Paintings, Inc., New York (stock no. 3413); sold through Howard Putzel (dealer), San Francisco, as agent to Louise and Walter C. Arensberg, Los Angeles, February 20, 1935 [4]; 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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