I would be the first to admit that I largely overlooked the work of French artist, Fernand Léger. Although I was aware of his uniquely colourful works characterised by simplified figures painted with shaded tones and outlined in black, I had never really seen enough of them to heed Léger much significance. That grave error was to come to an abrupt end on my honeymoon when I attended the Musée Nacional Fernand Léger in the little town of Biot on the French Riviera. Seeing this artist’s magnificent work en masse, grouped together in a chronological retrospective of his life’s work, left me feeling uplifted and awashed by colour, and deeply, deeply satisfied by the sleek finish and positive subject matter depicted in his work.
Enjoying the Biot museum
Born in 1881 in Normandy, Léger’s early work was characterised by a personal form of cubism, and human forms were reduced and simplified; curling curvaceous hair became what looked like undulating metal sheets, and his paintings drew clear influence from the Futurist movement. Gradually losing people from his works, Léger’s paintings became even more abstractive before an about turn saw the reintroduction of the figure alongside often floating disorientated objects such as keys and blobs of sky and clouds.
Early cubist work leading back into figurative depictions
From this point onwards, Léger adopted a gradually more figurative, populist style as he sought to use art as a means of attracting not just the cultured set, but the whole of society into galleries, attracted by paintings depicting every day life in bright, happy colours, as well as working life, for example in his masterfully conceived works featuring labourers on scaffolding.
Beyond the galleries, the Biot museum offers an immersive grand-scale opportunity to discover some of the artist’s incredible sculptural, ceramic and mosaic works as demonstrated by the immense mosaics which envelop the building, constructed shortly after the artist’s death by his wife and business partner. In a garden laden with pine trees, Léger’s candy coloured sculptures are dazzling in the Riviera sunshine, while the mosaics explode in the landscape with all of the force deserved by this brilliant 20th century artist.
The museum’s exterior and its gardens
With his boldly simplified treatment of modern subject matter, Léger is rightfully regarded as a forerunner of pop art, and for me an absolute inspiration. I will never underestimate the work of Fernand Léger again.
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