Committed to the social function of art, Léger adapted modernist modes such as Cubism to express the experience of the working classes. This show looks at his development as a painter, and presents key works in film, graphic design and textiles. Find out more about the Fernand Léger exhibition from Tate Liverpool’s website.
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Léger was born into a farming family in rural Argentan – but when he moved to Paris to train as an architect, he was captivated by the dynamism of the city and by the bold designs of the advertising he saw on the street. In the 1910s he began to adapt the prevailing modernist idioms of his day to his own ends. The elements of Cubism and abstraction that are evident in the fragmented geometries and bold colour contrasts of The Disc become, in Léger’s hands, part and parcel of the bustle of modern city life.
As the threat of totalitarianism in Europe grew in the 1930s, Léger’s commitment to socialism strengthened. This impressive photo-mural, three and a half metres in length, was first displayed in 1937 at the Agriculture Pavilion of the International Exposition in Paris. It combines Léger’s earlier abstract aesthetic with images of idealised rural life. Developed with the designer Charlotte Perriand, this major work has never been seen in the UK before now.
In this painting the contorted figure of the acrobat, fusing with the abstract spiral of colour from which he appears to emanate, contrasts with the rigidity of his partner and the ladder she clutches. Léger wrote of this work that ‘the more contrasts there are in a picture, the stronger is the painting’. As a space where the human body could be seen in dynamic motion, the circus offered plenty of inspiration – moreover, like Picasso and Chagall, Léger believed that the circus was of an egalitarian nature, bringing culture to the wider public.
After the Second World War, Léger followed Picasso in joining the French Communist Party. In his art, his fascination with the mechanisms of modern society became focused upon the post-war reconstruction effort. He began a series of paintings of construction workers, which emphasised the contrasts between flesh and metal, nature and mechanism. His commitment to art as an egalitarian enterprise saw him exhibit this series of paintings in the canteen of a Parisian car factory.