Peter de Francia: Fernand Léger; Yale University Press; New Haven, CT.

During the fabulous, legendary, supreme outburst of artistic creativity that occurred during the first three decades of this century, concentrated in Europe between Vitebsk and Pyrenees and called “avant-garde” (or the School of Paris, modern abstraction, fauvism, cubism, futurism, expressionism, constructionism, suprematism, surrealism, etc., etc., etc.), Paris became the world’s art capital. But the cultural phenomenon itself was overwhelmingly cosmopolitan in nature. Although there were many Frenchmen among the crowd of masters and geniuses that populated the Left Bank ateliers, the number of Spaniards, Germans, Lithuanian Jews, and Russians involved was such that to talk about the art produced in Paris during that period as “French” is to create confusion and misunderstanding. However, among all the Picassos, Chagalls, and Archipenkos, there was Fernand Leger, an arch-Frenchman, a veritable Frenchman’s Frenchman. His appearance and manner were both typically French, yet he made, perhaps, the most internationalist contribution to the movement with a bulk of work that could have been painted anywhere in the world. He always adored what he called “a concrete reality,” but ended up, according to his biographer, Professor de Francia, as the conceptualist of “art as spectacle.” His naive, voluminous monumentalism always flirted with play­ fulness of details, colors, graphic paraphernalia. He was a committed communist, but in the Stalin-Zhdanov era of socialist realism, his art was scorned as degenerated imperialist subversion by Soviet critics. His Frenchness of habits and opinionated prejudices put together with his yearning for international brotherhood was an ironic inconsistency for which he had to pay. His contribution to contemporary decorative arts — posters, murals, stage design, advertisement techniques — is immeasurable and priceless.


Fernand Légeritself is something of an international work-at least of the Western alliance. The author, whose name sounds Portuguese, is a professor at the Royal College of Art in London; the book was printed in Italy and carries the imprint of an American press. Prof Francia’s text has obvious informative shortcomings: for some reason, Léger’s political allegiances, so important in his overall portraiture, are meagerly ad­ dressed, and even the date of his death is exceptionally hard to find.