If pictorial expression has changed, it is because modern life has required it... The view from the window of a railway carriage and car travelling at speed has altered the customary appearance of things. A modern man registers a hundred times more sensorial impressions than an artist of the 18th century
The compression of a modern painting, its variety, its decomposition of forms, are the result of all this. --Fernand Léger, 1914
These were the words used by Fernand Léger (18811955) on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War to comment on the radical transformations the spread of the second Industrial Revolution was bringing to every sphere of everyday life, in which an increasingly frantic, or more modern, rhythm in life was changing art and its rules.
In collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia
is dedicating a major exhibition to Léger and his extraordinary career within the European artistic avant-garde, hosted in the rooms of the Museo Correr. This important event, open from 8th February to 2nd June 2014, is the first major exhibition about the French artists work to be held in Italy, and focuses on the theme of the depiction of the contemporary city.
Divided into five sections (The metropolis before the Great War, The painter of the city, Advertising, The performing arts, Space), Léger. A vision of the contemporary city 1910 - 1930 is curated by Anna Vallye with the scientific direction of Gabriella Belli and Timothy Rub, director of the PMA in Philadelphia and exhibition project by Daniela Ferretti, in the wake of the success at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Léger. A vision of the contemporary city 1910-1930 presents over 100 works, of which more than 60 by Léger himself. The selection includes the outstanding La Ville, a painting that led the way to the most experimental and Cubist/Futurist experimentation of his production, and which has exceptionally been loaned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art together with a group of another 25 important works.
Painted by Léger in 1919 on his return to Paris after serving at the Front during the First World War, this large picture would influence an entire generation of artists, becoming a manifesto of painting dedicated to the subject of the contemporary city. The paintings subject is the city and its frantic activity, its architecture of Cubo-Futurist assemblages, and its inhabitants: mechanical, almost robotic men, harmoniously integrated into the dynamism of the new urban machine.
This extraordinary work, constituting the incipit of the exhibition, is being flanked by a series of important works from public and private European and American collections (Tate Liverpool, the Avery Art and Architecture Library of Columbia University in New York, the Dansmuseet of Stockholm, the Centre Pompidou of Paris, the Musée National Fernand Léger in Biot, the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio and the Fondation Beyeler of Basel, to mention a few), enabling the visitor not only to compare Légers picture with many other innovative compositions by the same artist, all linked to the theme of the modern city and some of them virtually unknown in Italy (such as his work for theatre design and advertising, and sets for theatre and cinema), but also to explore the links between his own work and that of other exponents of this fruitful avant-garde season.
His rich production, which explored almost every field of artistic endeavour, from advertising and cinema to graphic design and theatre, is being compared in the exhibition with other masterpieces by leading artists of the period, friends and travelling companions in experimentation, among whom Duchamp, Picabia, Robert Delaunay, El Lissitzky, Mondrian, Le Corbusier; all artists who, like Léger himself, have contributed to renewing the notion of how to depict the city, each using the form best suited to his personal aesthetic interests but falling within one of the many isms of the early 20th century, from Cubism to Futurism, Constructivism to the Neoplasticism of De Stijl.
The quantity and variety of the works and projects displayed from the first urban landscape of all, Smoke over rooftops of 1911, to the so-called mural pictures executed between 1924 and 1926; from the costumes and choreographies for the Ballets Suédois to such famous works as The typographer (1919), Man with a cane (1920) and Mechanical element (1924), and Marcel LHerbiers film Linhumaine, for which he helped with the sets and which constitutes a celebration of cinema as synthesis of the arts will enable visitors to judge the artistic results of those crucial two decades between 1910 and 1930 with their multifarious facets, when Paris was truly the worlds capital for art, culture, trade and society, before the stock market crashes caused its inexorable decline. And it was in Paris that Léger and the avant-garde artists, responsive to the stimuli originating from that extraordinary forge of stimuli and innovation that was the modern metropolis, played a leading role in redefining the place of art within society.
Légers work in this field was truly pioneering and the exhibition stresses the fact both for his multi-disciplinary conception of art and for his striving to change the forms of painting, thereby meeting the demands of the new urban reality, in line with a phenomenon that after the Second World War would be dubbed mass communication. Reworking his style, which was first influenced by Picassos Cubism and his contacts with leading exponents of the European avant-garde, like Robert Delaunay, Jacques Lipchitz and Juan Gris, Fernand Léger gradually formed a wholly personal manner, and from the period immediately after the Great War began to impose himself as a major architect of painting. His realism, attuned to urban life, was certainly the most interesting result of the crossfertilisation between the various forms of art and the style of the first mass media.