by Scholes, Robert
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Fernand Léger (1881 - 1955)
Fernand Léger was born in Argentan, Normandy and was apprenticed to an architect in Caen between 1897-1899. He then worked as a draughtsman in an architect's office in Paris between 1900 and 1902, and in a photographic studio, retouching photos in 1903-1904. In 1903, he failed the entrance examination for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and studied instead at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs and the Académie Julian. In 1907 a Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d'Automne made a great impression on him. In 1908, he moved to La Ruche, an artists' colony in Paris, where he met many avant-garde artists and writers, including Lipchitz and Apollinaire. In 1909, he moved to Montparnasse, where he met the douanier Rousseau.
By 1911, Leger had become a key member of the evolving cubist movement. Major works of this cubist period include La Noce (1911-12) and Contrasts of Forms (1913). During WWI he served as a sapper in the French army and was gassed at Verdun.
Following World War I, Leger concentrated more and more on urban and machine imagery, which led logically to his association (1919-1925) with the purism of Le Corbusier and Amedee Ozenfant. In paintings such as The Mechanic (1920) and Three Women (1921), he favored sharply delineated, flat shapes, unmodeled color areas, and combinations of human and machine forms. He was a committed socialist, and his mature paintings reflect his powerful urge to give artistic shape to the lives of working people, and to find beauty in ordinary things.