Fernand Léger (1881-1955)

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    Joseph Fernand Henri Léger (1881-1955) was a French painter, sculptor, and filmmaker. In his early works he created a personal form of Cubism which he gradually modified into a more figurative, populist style. His boldly simplified treatment of modern subject matter has caused him to be regarded as a forerunner of Pop Art.

    Léger initially trained as an architect before moving in 1900 to Paris, where he studied with Gérôme at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts. He began to work seriously as a painter at the age of 25. A new emphasis on drawing and geometry appeared in Léger's work after he saw the Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d'Automne in 1907.

    In 1909 he moved to Montparnasse and met such leaders of the avant-garde as Archipenko, Lipchitz, Chagall, and Robert Delaunay. In 1910 he joined with several other artists, including Delaunay, Jacques Villon, Albert Gleizes and Francis Picabia to form an offshoot of the Cubist movement, the Puteaux Group-also called the Section d'Or (The Golden Section). Léger was influenced during this time by Italian Futurism, and his paintings became increasingly abstract.

    Léger's experiences in World War I had a significant effect on his work, and he developed a "mechanical period", during which the figures and objects he created were characterized by sleekly rendered tubular and machine-like forms. As an enthusiast of the modern, Léger was greatly attracted to cinema, and for a time he considered giving up painting for filmmaking. In 1924, in collaboration with Dudley Murphy, George Antheil, and Man Ray, Léger produced and directed the iconic and Futurism-influenced film, Ballet Mécanique (Mechanical Ballet).

    Starting in 1927, the character of Léger's work gradually changed as organic and irregular forms assumed greater importance. In 1931, Leger visited New York City and decorated Nelson Rockefeller's apartment. In 1935, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented an exhibition of his work. During World War II Léger lived in the United States, where he found inspiration in the novel sight of industrial refuse in the landscape.

    As the first painter to take as his idiom the imagery of the machine age, and to make the objects of consumer society the subjects of his paintings, Léger has been called a progenitor of Pop art. In 1952, a pair of Léger murals was installed in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations headquarters in New York, New York. In 1960, the Musée Fernand Léger was opened in Biot, Alpes-Maritimes,France. Léger died at his home in 1955.