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Harvard's Fogg Art Museum Presents Rare Exhibition of Works by Fernand Léger

Cambridge, MA,

Exhibition lends insight into the rise of cubism and the beginning of abstract art and is the first in the Boston area in sixty years

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The Harvard University Art Museums present Fernand Léger: Contrasts of Forms, a tightly focused exhibition uniting two landmark paintings with eleven works on paper from major museums and private collections, at the Fogg Art Museum from April 14 through June 10, 2007. The selection of paintings and drawings from 1912–14 encompasses still-lifes, landscapes, depictions of the figure, and abstractions, giving the exhibition great scope. These landmark works are arguably from Léger’s most important period, as they are central to both the cubist revolution and the emergence of abstract art. The last presentation of Léger’s works in the region was a 1945 exhibition at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

Fernand Léger: Contrasts of Forms is organized by the University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, where it is currently on view through March 18, 2007. The exhibition is curated by Matthew Affron, associate professor of art history at the University of Virginia and director of special curatorial projects for the University of Virginia Art Museum. The Fogg Art Museum’s presentation, the second and final venue of the exhibition, is cocurated by Harry Cooper, curator of modern art at the Harvard University Art Museums. “This is exactly the kind of exhibition we dream about hosting,” said Cooper. “It offers a focused look at a pivotal moment in the career of one of the great artists of the 20th century, and it gives special emphasis to rarely seen works on paper that are as radical and powerful as anything Picasso, Braque, and Matisse were doing in the same years.”

Between 1912 and 1914, Fernand Léger executed a large cycle of works known as Contrasts of Forms. The series embraces the genres of landscape, still life, and figure, but at its core are numerous arresting compositions that sweep aside recognizable subject matter to focus on an abstract motif. The common denominator is a complex vocabulary of mingled cones, cylinders, cubes, and planes, vigorously outlined and scrubbed with color in the paintings and with black ink and white gouache in the works on paper.

Contrasts of Forms are essential to two great chapters in the history of modern art in the years before World War I: first, the development of cubism, and second, the emergence of abstract art. In 1915, the painter described some of the last works in this open-ended series of compositions as “fairly abstract investigations (contrasts of forms and colors).” These words highlight the experimental thrust of the series as a whole.

“Our collection contains only a few works by Léger, but none from this crucial early moment in his career,” said Thomas W. Lentz, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. “We are grateful to our colleagues at the University of Virginia Art Museum for giving us the opportunity to display these important works, as well as the lending institutions and private collectors that have generously lent them for this exhibition. The exhibition is significant for the Art Museums not only for its presentation of the history of modern art, but also for the role it plays in our teaching and research.”

The exhibition Fernand Léger: Contrasts of Forms was organized by the University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, Virginia, with the generous support of The Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust; University of Virginia Art Museum Volunteer Board; the Office of the Dean of Arts & Sciences and the Carl H. and Martha S. Lindner Center for Art History, University of Virginia; Nicholas Acquavella; Sheila and Ted Weschler; Sheridan W. and Thomas F. Nicholson; and an anonymous gift.

Fernand Léger: Contrasts of Forms is accompanied by a comprehensive fifty page catalogue featuring color illustrations of all works in the exhibition, as well as original scholarly essays by curator Matthew Affron and Maria Gough, associate professor of art history at Stanford University. The exhibition catalogue was made possible by the Oakwood Foundation.