Composition, Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger
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Fernand Léger

Composition, 1920

340 x 245 mm
Physical Description
Gouache and pen in black over pencil on wove paper (rough watercolour paper)
Inventory Number
SG 3342
Object Number
SG 3342 Z
Acquired in 1979
Can be presented in the study room of the Graphische Sammlung (special opening hours)


About the Work

A balanced pictorial arrangement and a calculated choice of cool colours lend Fernand Léger's 'Composition' - from his so-called mechanical period ('période mécanique') during the post-war years from 1918 to 1920 - its emphatic coherence. It convincingly honours a design principle of contrasts, a pictorial language developed from Léger's experience of Cubist fragmentation of forms, which aimed to correspond to the visual experience of modern man. Even before the caesura of the First World War the artist had concentrated on the processing of visual stimuli and experiences of big-city and industrial civilisation. The raw materials of his works included the typography used in the advertising which formed part of the Paris cityscape, as well as mechanical components and architectural details. In an almost puristic manner, Léger created a contrasting interplay of lines and surfaces, round and rectangular forms, juxtaposing them spatially and statically with planimetric- and dynamic-looking forces respectively.

The pictorial space he has composed here is occupied by a number of planar surfaces in black, white and, in part, the subtly broken light ochre of the laid paper. At first sight it may look like an abstractly built structure of overlapping, geometric forms and densely packed with no attention to rules. Orientation is offered by the concentrically subdivided half-disc with a cut black circular shape in the centre, which finds stability on a tilted base unit. This two-dimensional object-like figure dominates the foreground of the vertical image and remains involved in the setting through the dynamic line complexes. Three unobtrusive black circles point the way into the confusingly entangled background, while the playfully decorative field with its linear design between them resembles a cast-iron railing and suggests transparency.

By way of contrast, the right-hand third of the picture as a whole remains on a single level - as indicated by the two isosceles triangles, one above the other, which are compartments for the stencilled letters 'U' and 'V' and which, like the 'R' at the very top, look like borrowed two-dimensional forms. The area along the right-hand edge of the paper, which has been left in its original state, forms an essential part of the composition that is as unobtrusive as it is noticeable.

This drawing by Léger occupies an important counter-position with regard to the art of the first half of the twentieth century, which is represented in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Städel above all by German Expressionism.

Work Data

Basic Information

Period Produced
Object Type
Physical Description
Gouache and pen in black over pencil on wove paper (rough watercolour paper)
Geographic Reference
Production Reason
Label at the Time of Manufacture
Signiert und datiert unten mittig (mit der Feder in Schwarz): F. LEGER / 20
Captions Added Later
Verso bezeichnet: #39 [?] / 3 1/2 wide / E Arens / Washington square Book s[unleserlich] / 27 W. 8 St.
  • Nicht vorhanden
Work Catalogues
  • Cassou/Leymarie 1973.62

Property and Acquisition

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Picture Copyright
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024
Acquired in 1979

Work Content

Motifs and References

Main Motif


  • 0 Abstract, Non-representational Art
  • 49D43 prism ~ stereometry
  • 49D33 triangle (~ planimetry, geometry)
  • 49D36 circle (~ planimetry, geometry)
  • 49D342(RECTANGLE) regular quadrilateral (RECTANGLE)
  • 49D32 line (~ planimetry, geometry)
  • 49L1 letters, alphabet, script
  • 22C4(WHITE) colours, pigments, and paints: white
  • 22C4(BLACK) colours, pigments, and paints: black

Research and Discussion


Object History
Berggruen & Cie., Paris
Verkauf an die Stadt Frankfurt am Main, 1979.


Since 2001, the Städel Museum has systematically been researching the provenance of all objects that were acquired during the National Socialist period, or that changed owners or could have changed owners during those years. The basis for this research is the “Washington Declaration”, also known as the “Washington Conference Principles”, formulated at the 1998 “Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets” and the subsequent “Joint Declaration”.

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