Art History  •  Artworks under the lens

Nudes in the Forest: Léger’s First Real Cubist Painting

Nudes in the Forest is Fernand Léger’s first major work in his personal Cubist style, known as Tubism. His style was reflective of his optimism with regards to the industrialization and developments of modern life around him. In this article, Singulart takes a closer look at the artist’s life and his unique Cubist style in Nudes in the Forest. 

Who was Fernand Leger?

Fernand Léger (1881-1955) was a French painter, sculptor and filmmaker. Born in Argentan, Normandy, Léger grew up on his father’s cattle farm. Between 1897 and 1899 he trained as an architect before moving to Paris in 1900 and completing military service in Versailles in 1902-3. He began painting seriously at the age of 25 and his first works were influenced by the Impressionists and the Fauvists. After seeing the Cezanne retrospective in 1907, his work became more focused on geometry and on the representation of a three-dimensional object on a two dimensional support.

Léger photographed by Sabine Weiss in 1952

In 1910 he exhibited alongside the Cubist’s at the Salon d’Automne, although he described his own form of Cubism as “Tubism” as he was more preoccupied with cylindrical forms than flat planes. From this point his works became increasingly abstract as he pushed the boundaries of Cubism into pure abstraction. Léger was mobilized in 1914 and like many artists of his generation, World War One had a profound effect on his subsequent works: they became more mechanical and returned to a more formal subject matter. Léger’s interest in modernity also led him to develop a passion for filmmaking and he designed the sets for several films. During World War Two he moved to the USA and taught at Yale. Upon his return to France in 1945 he joined the Communist Party and his work became more figurative. Despite oscillating between abstraction and figuration throughout his entire career, Léger’s goal was always to prioritize the object over the subject, as is demonstrated in Nudes in the Forest. 

What is happening in Nudes in the Forest? 

Fernand Léger, Nudes in the Forest, 1910

Nudes in the Forest is Leger’s first major work in his unique Cubist style, demonstrating his departure from Impressionism and his exploration of Cubism. Nudes in the Forest exemplifies the elements that defined his own personal form of Cubism, including his interest in monochromatic colour, geometry and volume. Nudes in the Forest depicts a geometric, mechanical landscape in which three nude figures can be identified. The figures are composed of cylindrical forms: to the left one figure raises its arms, in the centre the figure is seated and to the right, the third figure twists away from the viewer. This composition, combined with the undulating volumes that make up the abstract background creates a sense of mechanical, robotic movement across the landscape. The color palette in Nudes in the Forest is comprised of shades of blue, green, grey and white, as the color was secondary to the volumes of the composition. Indeed, when talking about his process of creating Nudes in the Forest, Leger stated: “I wanted to carry the volumes to the extreme” and he summarised the composition as “a fight of volumes”.  

Leger’s style of Cubism

 Leger’s personal style of Cubism, unlike that of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, did not abandon volume and three dimensionality but rather embraced it. In this way, he recalls the influence of Paul Cezanne and his investigation of pictorial space. In Nudes in the Forest, Leger demonstrates a concern for construction of three dimensionality on the canvas, as opposed to a simultaneous deconstruction and reconstruction that can be found in the work of Picasso and Braque. Leger’s Cubism came to be known as Tubism, although it was a title he disputed, due to his prolific use of cylindrical forms. It can also be said that his style bears close resemblance to Italian Futurism in its ideology as he shared the same interests in depicting the advantages of urbanization and industrialization. By pursuing this interest and developing his own Cubist style, Leger became an avant-garde artist, entirely absorbed and inspired by the unique moment in time that coincided with his life and work. Nudes in the Forest consequently expresses not only Leger’s desire to push the boundaries of plasticity but also his personal philosophical view of the world he lived in.

See similar artworks in Singulart’s Inspired by Fernand Léger collection.

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