Fernand Léger

Fernand Léger

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Fernand Léger, The City, 1919. Oil on canvas, 231.1 x 298.4 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art: A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1952, 1952-61-58.

July 24, 2013

Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis
October 14, 2013–January 5, 2014

Philadelphia Museum of Art 
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5pm,
Wednesday and Friday 10am–8:45pm 


Comprising approximately 160 works, including loans from public and private collections in Europe and the United States, this multimedia exhibition will unite The City with other important paintings from this period by the French painter Fernand Léger (1881–1955), and with key works in film, theater design, graphic and advertising design, and architecture by the artist and his avant-garde colleagues, including Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Cassandre, Amédée Ozenfant, Le Corbusier, Francis Picabia, Alexandra Exter, Gerald Murphy, and others. Returning to Paris after military service in World War I, Léger encountered a changed city, infused with a new boisterous energy that would inspire him to create one of his landmark achievements, the monumental painting The City (1919). The creation of this work signaled the beginning of the most experimental period in Léger’s work, lasting through the 1920s, when the artist challenged and redefined the practice of painting by bringing it into active engagement with the urban popular and commercial arts. Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis will examine the centrality of this masterpiece in Léger’s career and the European avant-garde in the years immediately after World War I. 

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: “Léger’s The City, donated to the Museum by the artist and collector A.E. Gallatin, is one of the greatest works in our collection and a landmark in the history of modern art. This exhibition examines the painting in context and marks the first time that the culture of the modern metropolis is explored as a catalyst for Léger’s pursuits in a variety of media.” 

A monumental painting in a post-Cubist style, The City was intended by the artist to convey viscerally the density and spatial complexity of the urban environment. Léger considered The City a “mural” painting both because of its grand scale and because he believed it spoke to a mass audience. With its composition characterized by montage-like cross-cuts from one scene to the next and dramatic “close-ups,” The City emulated the most popular of modern urban entertainments, the cinema. With his enthusiasm for modernity and urban culture continuing to grow, Léger considered abandoning painting for filmmaking. In 1922–24 he designed, produced, and directed for the cinema and theater. During this time, in collaboration with Ozenfant, Léger established a free school where he taught with Exter and Marie Laurencin. In 1924, influenced by the work and theories of van Doesburg and Le Corbusier, Léger produced the first of his entirely abstract “mural paintings.”

The exhibition will be organized thematically to reflect the fertile relationships between painting and urban culture during this period. The first section of the exhibition will examine the notion of “publicity” and the excitement Léger felt for the evolving visual language of mass communication in the city: the bustle of billboards, traffic signs, and shop window displays. Léger’s paintings, his designs for advertising posters, and his print illustrations will be seen alongside work by other artists and designers, such as Murphy, Cassandre, and Jean Carlu. The exhibition will also explore Léger’s interest in public entertainment and staged performance, mainly the theater and cinema, highlighting the set and costume designs produced by Léger for film and ballet. This part of the exhibition will survey avant-garde activities around cinema and the stage and include works by Picabia, Exter, Georgii Yakoulov, and others. The exhibition’s final section will address the theme of “space” by presenting the artist’s abstract mural compositions of the mid-1920s, intended as decorative architectural panels, in the context of the avant-garde’s exploration of integrating architectural and pictorial space.  This section of the exhibition will include works by artists, architects, and designers such as Mondrian, van Doesburg, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Alexander Archipenko and Le Corbusier. 

Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis is generously supported by The Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Annenberg Foundation for Major Exhibitions, and Sotheby’s.

The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Scholarly Publications at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and by Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest museums in the United States, with a collection of more than 227,000 works. At the core of its modern and contemporary art holdings are significant works by such celebrated artists as Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, Fernand Léger, and Joan Miró, as well as the largest and most important collection of work by Marcel Duchamp. The Museum’s expanding contemporary roster includes major works by Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, and Bruce Nauman. Exemplary pieces can also be seen in the Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden, currently featuring works by Sol LeWitt, Ellsworth Kelly, Franz West, Claes Oldenburg, and Thomas Schütte, as well as a series of sculptures by Isamu Noguchi installed as part of the Garden’s inaugural exhibition. 

For additional press information and images, contact the press office at pressroom [​at​] philamuseum.org or 215 684 7860. 

For general information, call 215 763 8100, or visit the Museum’s website at philamuseum.org


Fernand Léger at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
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July 24, 2013

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