Fernand Léger

Biography of Fernand Léger

The pioneering French painter, Fernand Léger never stopped adapting his style and although he is regarded as a Cubist he is also considered a forerunner of Pop art as well. His more populist brand of cubism was termed “Tubism” by some critics for its greater focus on cylindrical forms.


Born in Normandy France in 1881, Fernand Léger studied as an architect before enrolling at the School of Decorative Arts. Hugely influenced by Cezanne, he was loosely associated with the Puteaux Group with Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. After a gruesome experience in the 1st World War on the frontline in Argonne, he nearly died from German mustard gas at Verdun.


The war had a profound effect on Fernand Léger’s art and he began depicting robot-like human figures that revealed an affinity between humans and machines. In 1920 he married and later met his lifelong friend Le Corbusier. Having moved away from abstraction he painted his famous work Three Women, in 1921. Attracted to cinema he became a highly regarded filmmaker and directed the Futurism inspired Mechanical Ballet, 1924.


After World War II Fernand Léger moved to New York City and began lecturing in “Color in Architecture” at Yale University. Increasing concerned with the plight of the common man, his return to France coincided with his joining the Communist Party. Around this time his work became larger in scope and focused on scenes of builders and country events. He spent his final years lecturing in Bonn and taking on grand commissions around the world. He died in Essonne, France in 1955.


Fernand Léger’s bold style and use of primary colors ensured that his work was accessible to all and massively influential. Shortly before his death in 1952 Léger installed two murals in the United Nations headquarters in New York. In Biot in France the Museum Fernand Léger was opened in 1960. In 2008 his painting Étude pour la femme en bleu, 1913 sold at Sotheby’s New York for nearly $40 million. In 2013 Léger’s work was celebrated at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

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