Les Papillons dans la Roue, 1944
Signed and dated lower right; signed, titled and dated verso
Oil on canvas board
16 x 20 in, 40.6 x 50.8 cm
This painting by Fernand Léger was made during World War II when the avant-garde French artist was living in exile in the USA. Having gained notoriety at the Salon d’Automne...
This painting by Fernand Léger was made during World War II when the avant-garde French artist was living in exile in the USA. Having gained notoriety at the Salon d’Automne and Indépendant for his unique Cubist style alongside artists such as Picasso and Braque, Léger embraced the bustle of American modernity during the war to create some of his most important works.
A cacophony of teeming sensation, ‘Les Papillons dans la Roue’ utilises the sharp oppositions of primary hues, heavy contours and twisting shapes to emphasise the contrast between the mechanical forms that dominated Léger’s earlier work in the 1920s and the organic style of the 1930s. As the artist stated “The only way I can achieve maximum power is through unrelenting application of the most absolute contrasts".
Léger spent the summer of 1943 outside New York in the small rural town of Rouses Point, where he was confronted by the shocking abundance of disused farm machinery overgrown with weeds and flowers amidst the exponential growth of American industry. In ‘Les Papillons dans la Roue’, Léger uses the central spinning wheel, enveloped by gnashing leaves and wiry tendrils of the undergrowth, to evoke the dominance of nature over man. This is a poignant signpost to the horrors Léger experienced as a soldier in the French army during World War I and the bitter reality of a divided Europe thrown into conflict once again.
Made in the same year as the pivotal work ‘Les Trois Musciens’ now in MoMA, New York, ‘Les Papillons dans la Roue’ was also originally in the collection of the New York gallerist Valentine Dudensing. His space in the city was seen as a ‘temple of modernism’ that championed key modern artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Mondrian.
Valentine Gallery, New York
Perls Galleries, New York
Private Collection, Miami, FL
New York, Valentine Gallery, 'New Paintings' 1945, No.15
Bauquier, Georges (ed), 'Fernand Leger Catalogue Raisonné de l'oeuvre peint 1944 - 1948', Maeght Editeur (1990) illustrated in colour pg. 17 (cat no. 1159)
This work is accompanied by the original invoice from Perls Galleries, dated 1963, which guarantees the authenticity of the work and that a photograph of the work is on file at the Leger Museum, Alpes Maritimes, France.