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"Fernand Léger: Man in the New Age"
2005-02-05 until 2005-05-16
ARKEN Museum of Modern Art
Ishoj, , DK Denmark

From 5 February ARKEN is showing Picasso’s rival, the French national artist Fernand Léger. With more than ninety works spotlighting Léger’s visions of man in the new age, the exhibition is the first presentation in Denmark of such a wide selection of the artist’s work. Intent on a radical break from his Impressionist style of painting, in 1908 the French artist Fernand Léger (1881-1955) destroyed the bulk of his works. He found them too harmonious and too far from his vision of the modern; he wanted the dynamic, chaotic, contrastive city culture to pervade his work. Like Picasso, Léger became one of the premier modernists in the first half of the twentieth century. In the spring of 2005 ARKEN presents how Léger provided a many-sided portrait of man in the new age.

The pulse of the big city

Broadway 1942. The city’s neon ads captivate Léger. He observes how the yellow, red and blue colours cascade across people’s faces. He transfers the colours onto the canvas as fragments, a technique called couleurs en dehors – outside colours.

The city is not always directly present in Léger’s paintings but we recognise now and again parts of elements from the city: steel bridges, ramps and crash barriers. Or large pipes and factory exhausts. The noise of the new machines of the day finds its way into his work as pulsating lines and angular shapes.

The Black Driver (1919) is from Léger’s ‘mechanical period,’ conveying his fascination with the machine, the new industry, the new motorised forms of transport and especially how man merged with the modern, mechanical age of the machine.

Man and machine

With much greater consequence than both Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Léger captures the industrialisation of the twentieth century. It is evident in his harmonious and classicist depictions of women from the 1920s.

Léger’s women, veritable statues carved in marble, have many similarities with Picasso’s women from that period. Amid the enthusiasm for the modern and the dynamic is an interest in the classical in the modern. The architect Le Corbusier, a good friend of Léger, believed that the colonnades of the buildings of the modern age, grain silos, factories, etc, must have the same rhythm as ancient Greek temples. This trend has often been regarded as a reaction to the fractured picture of man and of the world following the horrors of World War I.

The free man

Léger was a socially and politically committed artist. The intention of works such as Construction Workers (Final Version) from 1950 was to delight the workers themselves. In order to engage in an active dialogue with the workers Léger decided to exhibit the work in the cafeteria at the Renault car factory.

In later works Léger celebrated the leisure time of the working class. Leisure on a Red Background (1949) portrays women, men and children bicycling in nature. The work is an expression of Léger’s idealistic hope of a better, freer, more harmonious world. He fought with Front Populaire for more leisure time and paid vacation for the working class, and wanted museums to be open in the evening to make the art available after working hours.

His pictures of swimmers, acrobats, street artists, cyclists in nature and families on picnics all illustrate Léger’s attraction to strength, movement and physical expression. With a glowing faith in a better future and a fascination with both man and machine, he is an artist of his time.

ARKEN to go

In the spirit of speed, strength and movement ARKEN leaves its concrete haven to arrange events in Copenhagen. For Léger the notion of the unfettered life was inextricably bound to popular activities like juggling and acrobatics. In a collaboration with the performance group AFUK, ARKEN stages modern life on railway stations and in the city. See also www.arken.dk


ARKEN is showing ninety-six of Fernand Léger’s works from the period 1905 to 1954. In addition to paintings, drawings and watercolours the exhibition presents examples of Léger’s films, theatre sets, tapestries and book illustrations. Léger did not see pictorial art as isolated from other artistic forms of expression. Rather he explored the mutual effect between art on the one hand and theatre, music, film and literature on the other. Furthermore Léger’s thoughts on art theory will be available in the form of excerpts from his essays on the function of art in society.

The Fernand Léger exhibition is mounted by ARKEN and is shown here only. ARKEN has acquired loans from museums including Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Tate Modern (London), Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Galerie Leiris (Paris), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and Musée national Fernand Léger (Biot).

De to gracier, 1929
Moderna Museet, Stockholm

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