French painter Fernand Leger was aligned with the cubist movement and was, an innovator in abstract art. He studied briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1903. By 1911 he had become friendly with Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso and had exhibited at the Salon des Independants. Leger continually experimented with color, shape, movement, and space.
He was originally trained as an architect’s draughtsman and photographic retoucher. Having failed the entrance exam to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1903, he studied at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs and the Academie Julian. In 1909 he ranked as one of the three major Cubists and became a member of the Puteaux group in 1911. He was the first of the Cubists to experiment with non-figurative abstraction, contrasting curvilinear forms against a rectilinear grid.
He renounced abstraction during the First World War, when he claims to have discovered the beauty of common objects, which he described as ‘everyday poetic images’. He began painting in a clean and precise style, in which objects are defined in their simplest terms in bold colours, taking cityscape and machine parts as his subject matter. In 1924 he made a ‘film without scenario’, Ballet Mecanique, in which he contrasted machines and inanimate objects with humans and their body parts.
During the Second World War, Leger lived in the USA where he taught at Yale, returning to Paris in 1945, when he opened an academy. His large paintings celebrating the people, featuring acrobats, cyclists and builders, thickly contoured and painted in clear, flat colours, reflected his political interest in the working class, and his attempt to create accessible art. From 1946 to 1949 he worked on a mosaic for the facade of the church at Assy, produced windows and tapestries for the church at Ardincourt in 1951, as well as windows for the University of Caracas in 1954. In 1950 he founded a ceramics studio at Biot, which, in 1957, became the Leger Museum. In 1967 it became a national museum. Leger was one of the giants of French painting this century, whose influence has been almost as great as his reputation.
The relations of geometric forms and mechanical elements-cranks, pistons, cogs, and robots-were an important part of his artistic vision. Leger came to the United States in 1940 to escape the German forces in Paris. He traveled extensively, and his work during this period was inspired by the American industrial landscape. It was at this point that he began to minimize the connection between color and outline. Leger experimented with lithography (a highly successful medium for him) at the Paris Atelier 17. Today his paintings and prints can be seen in prominent museums throughout the world.