Textile length, screenprint on cotton, designed by Fernand Léger, France, 1940-1950, made by Bossi SpA, Cameri, Italy, 1950-1951
This Fernand Léger textile is from the personal collection of Jenny Kee. It was presented to her by Vern Lambert (an expatriate Australian writer, historian and connoisseur of fashion with an independent and eccentric eye, and close friend, confidant and collaborator of Anna Piaggi, fashion editor, Vogue Italy where this textile was printed). Vern presented the textile to Jenny Kee as a special gift when she developed her first Kee kollage print in 1980. Its bold primary colours, dark outlines, white background, and collage of motifs were a source of inspiration for Kee's own textile designs.
Modernist artist-designed textiles were also created by commission in Australia and these are well represented in the Museum's collection. Claudio Alcorso of Silk & Textiles Printers created his Modernage fabrics range in the late 1940s (including designs by Margo Lewers, Jack Carrington-Smith, Douglas Annand, William Dobell, James Gleeson, Frank Hinder, Hal Missingham, Alice Danciger, Jean Bellette, Carl Plate, Margaret Preston and others), and John Kaldor of Kaldor Sekers created a range of Australian artist-designed furnishing fabrics in the early 1960s (Elaine Haxton, John Coburn and others). Prestige Ltd, Melbourne also created artist-designed dress fabrics, using in-house artists (Stan Otstoja-Kotkowski and others) during the 1950s.
Australian artist, Jeffrey Smart, whose artwork for an alternative Australian flag is in the Powerhouse Museum's collection (98/101/9), studied under Léger in 1948.
In addition to its important connection/association with influential Australian artists and designers, and design industry practice in Australia during the mid-20th century, the Fernand Léger textile has stand-alone significance as an rare example of a mid-20th century artist-designed textile by leading French painter, Fernand Léger. Along with Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris, Fernand Léger (1881-1955) ranks among the foremost Cubist painters. During the 1940s and 1950s, in addition to paintings on canvas, Fernand Léger created glass paintings, sculptures, murals, mosaics, ceramics, tapestries, rugs and textile designs. In 1949, Léger opened a studio for ceramics and made glass mosaics also working around this time in glass and textiles. At the request of Enrico Gregotti of the Bossi textile firm in Cameri, Italy, Léger created two textile designs. In July 1950, Léger authorised Gregotti to produce one of them.
While Léger worked in two basic styles simultaneously, using a figurative style for his paintings and a more abstract style for most of his decorative work - this textile, with its stylised but recognizable butterflies and crescents, has elements of both styles. The crescents resemble those used by Léger in his abstract mural for the first-class dining room of the SS Lucania of around 1951-52. (see Design 1935-1965 What Modern Was, Abrahms, NY 1991, p. 263)
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator
This textile print was designed by Fernand Léger between 1940-1950 in France and was produced by Bossi SpA in Cameri, Italy between 1950-1951.
During the 1940s and 1950s, in addition to paintings on canvas, Léger also created glass paintings, sculptures, murals, mosaics, ceramics, tapestries, rugs and textile designs. At the request of Enrico Gregotti of Bossi SpA (an Italian textile firm, established in 1907 in Cameri, Italy), Léger created two textile designs. In July 1950, Léger authorised Gregotti to produce one of the designs.
Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
French painter, who along with Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris, ranks among the foremost Cubist painters of the teens. Léger is credited with having influenced cubism, constructivism, and other types of applied art, including commercial poster art. Léger's work also had an important influence on the neoplasticism movement in the Netherlands and constructivism in the Soviet Union. In addition to paintings on canvas, Léger also created glass paintings, sculptures, mosaics, ceramics, tapestries and textile designs.
Born in Argentan, Normandy, Léger was apprenticed to an architect in Caen between 1897-1899. He then worked as a draughtsman in an architect's office in Paris (1900-1902). 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. Between 1903 and 1904 he worked in a photographic studio retouching photographs. From 1909 he was associated with the Cubists and later became a member of the informal Puteaux Group and a member and exhibitor of the Salon des Indépendants. In 1913, he signed a contract with Daniel-H. Kahnweiler who had already discovered Picasso and Braque. With Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, Léger played an important role in the development and spread of cubism, though his tubular and curvilinear abstractions contrasted with the rectilinear forms produced by these painters. Léger became the first of the Cubists to experiment with non-figurative abstraction.
After his experiences of being gassed during World War I (1914-1918), Léger began to use symbols from the industrial world, and depict objects and people in machine-like form. He became a close friend of Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, collaborating with Ozenfant in the Atelier Libre and in 1925 and exhibiting at Le Corbusier's Pavilion de I'Esprit Nouveau. During 1925 he also did mural decorations, in collaboration with Robert Delaunay, for the entry hall of the Les Arts Décoratifs exhibition in Paris. During his collaboration with the leaders of the Purist movement his work came to emphasis the "machine aesthetic" which Purism exemplified. His paintings were static, with the precise and polished appearance of machinery and a strong emphasis on the representation of mechanical parts.
During the late 1920s and 1930s, Léger painted single objects isolated in space and sometimes amplified to gigantic size. He also produced theatrical decors, especially for the Swedish Ballets, and worked with cinema producing the Ballet Mechanic in 1934, a film without a script. During the WWII Léger lived in the United States, teaching at Yale University and also Mills College, California. His painting at this time consisted of compositions featuring mainly acrobats and cyclists. After his return to France in 1945 his work reflected more prominently his political interest in the working classes. The static, monumental style of his paintings remained, with flat and pure colours, heavy black contours and a continuing concern with the contrast between cylindrical and rectilinear forms. Léger's work and political interest in the working classes has not always been reviewed favourably. Following MoMA, New York's Léger retrospective in 1998, Dr Francis O'Connor wrote, "Going through the River Rouge auto plants when I was working on an essay about Rivera's murals of the Ford assembly line for the Detroit Institute of Arts' retrospective, revealed those vibrant old factories as far more organic and chthonic, if not downright hellish, than Léger's fantasies of the worker's environment, where everything is neat primary colors -- and the rust, heat, grunge and quaking are totally absent." (Review of the Léger retrospective, Museum of Modern Art, 1998 by Dr. Francis V. O'Connor, O'Connor's Page, http://www.artchive.com/artchive/L/leger.html)
In 1949, Léger opened a studio for ceramics with his former pupil Robert Brice and made glass mosaics for the University of Caracas (1954) working also at this time in glass and textiles, on the windows and tapestries for the church at Audincourt (1951). It was around this time that Léger also produced designs for textiles.
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator