Fernand Léger's Body of Art - 'A return to order'

Abstracted into tubular fragments, owing a debt to the multiple viewpoints of Cubism - another Body of Art highlight
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Three Women 1921-2 Fernand Léger
Three Women 1921-2 Fernand Léger

Our brilliant new book Body of Art, is the first to celebrate the beautiful and provocative ways artists have represented, scrutinised and utilised the body over the centuries. It features works by such wild contemporary artists as George Condo and Paul McCarthy. Fernand Léger's 1921 painting Three Women, also is also included in the book, is a far more ordered take on the human form. Read this extract to understand how his alloy of Cubism and classical art was, in part, a response to the First World War. 

Three nude female figures – two reclining, one sitting – pose within a modern apartment. Accoutrements of chic domesticity surround them – modernist rugs, furniture, wallpaper and crockery – and the women’s body parts seem transformed into corresponding shapes. Abstracted into tubular fragments, their bodies have a machinelike quality, and their identical faces stare out blankly behind cascades of jet-black hair. Léger’s treatment of figures and space owes a debt to the multiple viewpoints of Cubism, but is here aligned with a rational, classically inspired approach that was known as the ‘return to order’.

In the years following the devastation of the First World War, European artists such as Léger revived the solidity and logic of classical art in a spirit of cultural regeneration. The theme of Léger’s painting – nude women reclining languidly while eating and drinking – was one favoured in previous centuries, where it was used as an allegory of pleasure and abundance. Here, Léger’s faith in modern industry is reflected in his vision of the human body, which, though hard-edged and industrial in aesthetic, is supple, curvaceous and even erotic. Léger’s domestication of the mechanical presents a utopian ideal of the future, wherein modern leisure and industrial innovation coexist in perfect harmony.

You can also learn more about the book hereand order your copy here.


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