Musée Fernand Léger

Entrance to the museum

He is the first major painter to embrace modern form in his design, specifically the form of the machine.  A painting that he did in 1905, My Mother’s Garden, as the Fauves took the scene by storm, is pure impressionism.  He was 24 and had been rejected as a student by the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  (It would be interesting to research how many great writers, artists, etc., have been rejected by petty minds.)  But he stuck to his guns (cf. later) and in the creative climate of the Cubists in Paris, he attended a retrospective of Cezanne’s work and in 1912 he painted La Femme en Bleu, the turning-point in his career. I saw it at the museum.

It was André Malraux that established not only the Léger museum, but the Chagall museum as well – where are more politicians like this?  In 1960 the inauguration of the Léger Museum was attended by Chagall himself, Picasso and Braque.  It was five years since Léger’s death.  Permission had been granted to reproduce Léger’s designs as abstract murals and the result is striking.  Comosition Murale is 25 X 12 metres; the three murals above the parking area are 15 metres each and the façade of the Museum itself is an abstract probably 20 X 8 metres.  The Léger Museum dwarfs the Chagall Museum.

In the gardens there are ceramic and metal friezes and a sculpture in steel six metres high between cypresses overlooking the Biot valley.  You go in at the entrance and find yourself bathed in light of primary colours – stained glass windows about 10 metres tall, designs happily tropical.

On the wall are the biographical details.  In 1917 Léger, in a trench at Verdun, nearly died in a mustard gas attack by the Germans. Perhaps that experience left him dour – the heavy moustache makes him look like a baker.  But the details did remind me of the tragic deaths of August Macke and Franz Marck, two brilliant German artists who died in those trenches two years before that.  What does this thing called war do to us?

Aproximately 15m abstract above the parking lot

In the permanent collection are works from the first decade of the 20th-century – a nuanced, realistic portrait of his uncle;  work from the 1920s and 1930s when his “mechanistic” phase was at its height and compositions after the Second World War – abstractions with floating rags of black (no painting without black), green, yellow, red, blue.

It is interesting for me to see how he portrays human beings.  “The human figure,” he says, “has plastic value, not sentimental value.”  Those figures that populate his canvases, look as if they are constructed from plastic tubes and yet they have a humanity. The textures are never far from a metallic sheen:  he once said that the most beautiful thing for him was the sheen on the barrel of a revolver. These were the guns he stuck to. This is the spirit of modernism and it is easy to see why some have said Léger was the father of Pop Art.

I left early and thought to explore the village of Biot where I had seen the glass factory.  I recognized the tradition of town building – the dwellings clustering at the top of a hill, pinnacled by the church tower.  To get there I trekked up the narrow cobbled streets of the Middle Ages.  The Church, I saw, was built in the 15th-century, though I couldn’t see the interior because of renovations.  The street signs are all bilingual, something I haven’t seen in Provence:  Le Cul de Sac / Lou Cuou de Saco.  The glass industry of Biot probably has its roots in Italy, and in Venice, in particular.

Will van der Walt ©

Mercredi  13 Juin 2012

Images Sources: Photographs by Will


One Response to Musée Fernand Léger

  1. I feel as if I am there. I love your pictures, they bring it to life,

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