Fernand Léger Biography

(French Painter and Sculptor Best Known for His Painting ‘My Mother's Garden’)

Birthday: February 4, 1881 (Aquarius)

Born In: Argentan, France

Fernand Léger was a French painter, sculptor, and filmmaker in the first half of the 20th century. He was deeply influenced by modern industrial technology and Cubism and created a personal form of cubism in his early works which he gradually modified into a more figurative, populist style. He is also credited with the development of “machine art”, a style characterized by monumental mechanistic forms rendered in bold colors. His art which significantly differed from the art of his contemporaries has caused him to be regarded as a forerunner of pop art. Born to a peasant family in a small town in rural France, he was expected to take forward the family tradition and raise cattle. However, the creative young man set his heart upon becoming an architect. After convincing his reluctant father he enrolled in architecture school and accepted an apprenticeship under an architect in Caen. However, he soon realized that his true interest lay in painting and not architecture. Thus he seriously embarked on a career as a painter and became a popular artist before long. As he matured as an artist, he increasingly incorporated elements of modernism into his works and during his later years he further expanded his repertoire to include tapestry, pottery, stained glass and mosaics.
Quick Facts

French Celebrities Born In February

Also Known As: Joseph Fernand Henri Léger

Died At Age: 74

Cubist Painters French Men

Died on: August 17, 1955

place of death: Gif-sur-Yvette, France

Notable Alumni: École Nationale Supérieure Des Arts Décoratifs, Académie Julian

More Facts

education: École Nationale Supérieure Des Arts Décoratifs, Académie Julian

Childhood & Early Life
Joseph Fernand Henri Léger was born to a peasant family in the rural town of Argentan, France, on February 4, 1881. His father raised cattle for a living.
On growing up Fernand Léger was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and raise cattle. However, the young Léger was more inclined towards the arts and wanted to pursue a profession where he could unleash his creativity. Initially he aspired to be an architect and trained in this profession from 1897 to 1899 before apprenticing under an architect in Caen. He completed his two-year internship in 1901.
He then served for a year during 1902-03 in military service in Versailles, Yvelines following which he furthered his education by studying at the Académie Julian. During this time he also attended the École des Beaux-Arts as a non-enrolled student.
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Eventually Fernand Léger realized that architecture was not his true interest and ventured into a career as an artist. He attended a retrospective of Paul Cézanne’s work at the Paris Salon d’Automne of 1907 and was thoroughly impressed.
He rented a studio at La Ruche (“The Beehive”), an artists’ settlement on the edge of Montparnasse, in 1908. During this period he met leaders of the avant-garde such as Archipenko, Lipchitz, Chagall, Joseph Csaky and Robert Delaunay who cast a deep influence on the young artist. His new friends also kindled his interest in Cubism, a movement that had been created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1907.
Fernand Léger developed his own style of Cubism, which became known as “Tubism”. In 1909, he created ‘The Seamstress’, in which he rendered the human body as a mass of slabs and cylinders that resembled a robot.
In 1910, he exhibited at the Salon d'Automne along with fellow artists Jean Metzinger and Henri Le Fauconnier. The following year, the hanging committee of the Salon des Indépendants named him a part of a group of painters known as “Cubists” who were made responsible for revealing Cubism to the general public.
When the World War I broke out, he fought as a sapper (military engineer) at the front lines. He was gassed at the Battle of Verdun and was hospitalized for a long period before being finally released from the army in 1917.
He continued painting after the war and also began exploring other artistic fields such as book illustrations, and set and costume designs for the theater. A few years later, he made his first film ‘Ballet Mécanique’ a purely non-narrative film with photography by Man Ray and Dudley Murphy and music by the American composer George Antheil.
His art matured in the 1920s and 1930s and he began to increasingly incorporate elements of modernism into his art. His major paintings from this period include ‘The Mechanic’, ‘Mona Lisa with Keys’, ‘Adam and Eve’, and ‘Composition with Two Parrots’. He gained much international prominence during this time and 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 and taught at Yale University. During his stay there he painted works such as ‘The Tree in the Ladder’ in 1943–44 before returning to France, in 1945. In his later years, he joined the Communist Party and explored varied projects like book illustrations, murals, stained-glass windows, mosaics, polychrome ceramic sculptures, and set and costume designs.
Major Works
As a painter, Fernand Léger is best known for developing his own style of Cubism which became known as “Tubism”. This style emphasized cylindrical shapes and is best depicted in paintings such as ‘Nudes in the Forest’ (1909-10) and ‘The Card Players’ (1917). He also played a significant role in influencing the Modernism movement.
Personal Life & Legacy
Fernand Léger was married twice. His first marriage was in 1919 to Jeanne-Augustine Lohy. His wife died in 1950. A couple of years later he tied the knot again with Nadia Khodossevitch.
He died on August 17, 1955, in Gif-sur-Yvette, France.
In 1960, the Musée Fernand Léger was opened in Biot, Alpes-Maritimes, France.
His work was featured in the exhibition "Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis" from October 14, 2013, through January 5, 2014, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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