Album photographie, Collection Léonce Rosenberg
© DR Fernand Léger, Le Moteur, 1918, illustré dans l'album photographie de Léonce Rosenberg
Fernand Léger was born in Normandy in 1881. Having begun an apprenticeship in an architect’s office in Caen, he enrolled at the Decorative Arts School in Paris in 1900, and frequented, as a free student, the studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme and Gabriel Ferrier. The works of his youth, which already showed exceptional talent, were influenced by Impressionism, which at the start of the 20th century had become a new form of academicism. At the Autumn Salon of 1907, he discovered Paul Cézanne, whose work was shown in a posthumous tribute retrospective, as well as the cubism of Braque’s and Picasso’s from which he was to borrow a number of esthetic and conceptual principles. At the same time, Fernand Léger moved into La Ruche and mixed with Modigliani and Brancusi. His work was to be more durably influenced by Cézanne’s teachings than his Cubist companions were, for he applied it nearly to the letter. His compositions’ strong geometry along with his clear taste for simplifying and rigorously purifying, demonstrate Léger’s brilliant, unique, and highly personal style which came to ensure international recognition. After the First World War, Fernand Léger, fascinated by technological progress in industry and transportation, created a series of works containing mechanical elements in order to represent subjects from modern life. To the artist, these mechanical components contributed to his new esthetics of modern beauty.
Our watercolor, entitled In the Factory, was made in December 1918. It is a preparatory work, or a variation, related to a series of works which hold the same title, and can be drawn closer to variations made under the title ‘The Motor’ (Le Moteur) in the same period. Developing series was common practice for Léger at the time and can be put into perspective with his burgeoning new approach to realism: seizing an object’s integrity and wholeness on a two-dimensional support through numerous images and interpretations of it. Characteristic of the beginnings of Léger’s “mechanical” period, ‘In the Factory’ suggests a personal appreciation in his vision of machinery: geometric, dynamic, fragmented, colorful, and of eminently esthetic quality. The study of this motif lead to the creation of artworks that neared upon abstraction. Creating ‘Factories’ and variations of ‘The Motor’ coincided with Léger’s joint efforts with the amateur, collector, and art dealer Léonce Rosenberg. After the First World War, the latter was to open a gallery in his Parisian town house called The Modern Effort (L’Effort moderne) or Galerie Léonce Rosenberg, which held several exhibitions devoted to Cubist artists. It exhibited work by Fernand Léger in 1918, just a few months after this watercolor was made and it appeared for sale under number 48, for 200 Francs.