Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
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Fernand Léger (1881-1955)

Les deux couteaux

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Les deux couteaux
signed and dated '49. F.LEGER' (lower right); signed, dated and inscribed 'Les 2 couteaux F.LEGER 49' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
18 7/8 x 25¼ in. (48 x 64 cm.)
Painted in 1949
The artist's estate (no. 31).
Tannenbaum Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the grandfather of the present owner in 1953, and thence by descent.
R.H. Hubbard, ed., Peintures européennes dans les collections canadiennes, vol. II, Toronto, 1956.
G. Bauquier, Fernand Léger, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1949-1951, Paris, 1996, no. 1323 (illustrated p. 23).
Toronto, Galerie d'Art de Toronto, Fernand Léger, October 1963.
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By the late 1940s Léger had all but abandoned the geometry and order that represented his visual expression of purism, ascribing the aesthetic success of a composition ultimately to the harmonious combination of volumes, lines and colours. 'These are the three forces that must govern works of art. If, in organizing these three essential elements harmoniously, one finds that objects, elements of reality, can enter into the composition, it may be better and give the work more richness. But they must be subordinated to the three essential elements mentioned above' (Léger, quoted in exh. cat. Fernand Léger, New York, 1998, p. 247).

In Les deux couteaux Léger employs colour and form in equal measure to define his composition in a harmonious and balanced way, juxtaposing recognisable objects with images of abstraction and decorative patterning that often fulfil a compositional role within the painting. Thus these object-based but semi-abstract paintings combine form and object into a new objective unity that Léger hoped would enhance the inherent beauty to be found in the modern everyday world. 'My aim is to try to lay down this notion: that there are no categories of Beauty - this is the worst possible error. The Beautiful is everywhere; perhaps more in the arrangement of saucepans in the white walls of your kitchen than in your eighteenth century living room or in the official museums' (Léger, The Machine Aesthetic: The Manufactured Object, the Artisan and the Artist, 1924). In keeping with this theory of the inherent dignity of objects, Léger therefore ascribes as much importance to minor objects that are depicted as to more noble inclusions. Each element is given equal status in the construction of the whole. 'In contemporary life if one looks twice, and this is an admirable thing to do, there is no longer anything of negligible value. Everything counts, everything competes and the scale of ordinary, conventional values is overturned' (Léger, The Machine Aesthetic II, Paris, 1925).