Fernand Léger was born on February 4, 1881 in the small rural town of Argentan in northwestern France. Léger showed early talent as an artist and, at 19, moved to Paris, where he supported himself as an architectural draftsman. While in Paris, he applied to the École des Beaux-Arts but was rejected and attended the Paris School of Decorative Arts. This was likely a formative moment given the variety of media that Léger would use later in his artistic career.
In 1907, Léger had his first major exposure to the work of Paul Cézanne at the retrospective held at the Salon d’Automne. Cézanne’s use of color and creation of three-dimensional shapes on canvas were major influences on Léger. The early Cubist works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were also major influences. By 1911, Léger had developed his own form of Cubism that was distinguished by his use of cylindrical shapes. The art critic Louis Vauxcelles described Léger’s unique style as “Tubism.”
Wartime Experience and Career
Léger served in the French Army in World War I from 1914 to 1917. This had a major impact on him artistically as his subject matter turned to “mechanical” figures and objects, including fellow soldiers, airplanes, and pieces of machinery.
After World War I, Léger’s oeuvre went beyond paintings and drawings into the realm of films, set designs, and murals. In the 1930s, Léger made his first trip to the United States. In 1935, he was the focus of a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that also traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago. Following the onset of World War II, Léger moved to the United States in 1940 to teach at Yale University.
In the postwar years, Léger returned to France and worked as both an artist and teacher. During the 1950s, he created work in a variety media, including tapestry, ceramic, stained glass, murals, and mosaics. Léger died in 1955 outside of Paris in Gif-sur-Yvette, France.
Today Fernand Léger is considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and one of the fathers of Modern Art. His works are in almost every major museum in the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Fernand Léger Museum (Biot).Contact a Specialist View all Artists/Makers