Along with Picasso, Braque, and Gris, Fernand Léger ranks among the foremost Cubist painters. By 1912, he had developed his own adaptation of Cubism. Utilizing pure color, he simplified the forms in his pictures into geometric components of the cone, cube, and sphere, leaving their contours unbroken. Leger was also fascinated by machines and modern technology. The Bargeman, which shows a boat set against a background dominated by the facades of houses, provided the artist with the opportunity to combine several of his favorite themes: motion, the city, and men at work. With colorful and overlapping disks, cylinders, cones, and diagonals, Léger presents a syncopated, abstract equivalent of the visual impressions of a man traveling along the Seine through Paris. All that can be seen of the bargeman, however, are his tube-like arms, in the upper part of the composition, which end in metallic-looking claws.
Inscription: Signed (lower right): F LEGER
[Léonce Rosenberg, Paris, 1918–38; stock no. 5357; purchased from the artist on March 7, 1918, for Fr 300; sold on October 20, 1938, for Fr 7,000, to Balay and Carré]; [Roland Balay and Louis Carré, Paris, 1938–39; sold on May 1, 1939 to Willert]; Paul Willert, New York (from 1939); [Theodore Schempp, New York; sold 1/2 share to Janis]; [Sidney Janis, New York; stock no. 5230]; Mr. and Mrs. Leigh B. Block, Chicago (until 1972; sold to Marlborough); [Marlborough Gallery, Inc., New York, from 1972]; (sale, Christie's, London, July 2, 1974, no. 105, as "Le Marinier," sold to Acquavella and Berggruen); [Acquavella Galleries, New York and Heinz Berggruen, Paris, 1974–83; on consignment to Daniel Malingue, Paris, in 1980; sold by Berggruen on September 10, 1983 to Gelman]; Jacques and Natasha Gelman, Mexico City and New York (1983–his d. 1986); Natasha Gelman, Mexico City and New York (1986–d. 1998; her bequest to MMA)
Geneva. Galerie Moos. "La Jeune peinture française: Les Cubistes," February 1920, no. 92 (as "Le marinier") [possibly this picture].
New York. Sidney Janis Gallery. "Léger: Major Themes," January 2–February 2, 1957, no. 5 (as "Sailor [Motive for 'The Tugboat']").
Paris. Berggruen et Cie. "F. Léger: Huiles, aquarelles, et dessins," May 1975, no. 3 (as "Le Marinier").
Geneva. Musée de l'Athenée. "Léger," July 12–October 11, 1979, no. 3 (as "Le marinier").
Paris. Daniel Malingue. "Maîtres impressionnistes et modernes," June 12–July 19, 1980, no. 19 (as "Le Marinier").
New York. Acquavella Galleries, Inc. "Fernand Léger: A Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of the New York Hospital Auxiliary," October 23–December 12, 1987, no. 12 (as "Le Marinier [The Bargeman]," lent by the Gelman Collection).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Fondation Maeght. "Fernand Léger: Rétrospective," July 2–October 2, 1988, no. 28 (as "Le Marinier," lent by Jacques and Natasha Gelman).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Twentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection," December 12, 1989–April 1, 1990, unnumbered cat. (p. 152).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Twentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection," April 19–July 15, 1990, unnumbered cat.
Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "De Matisse à Picasso: Collection Jacques et Natasha Gelman," June 18–November 1, 1994, unnumbered cat. (p. 176).
Fernand Léger. Letter to Léonce Rosenberg. [February 24, 1918] [published in Ref. Derouet 1996, p. 26, no. 18], asks Rosenberg to see his latest paintings [Ref. Derouet 1996 identifies this painting among them].
Jean Bazaine. Fernand Léger: Peintures antérieures à 1940. Exh. cat., Galerie Louis Carré. Paris, 1945, ill. p. 13, as "Le marinier".
William Rubin. Three Generations of Twentieth-Century Art: The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection of The Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1972, p. 6, calls it "Sailor"; relates it to "The Bargeman" in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, dating the latter to March 1918 (Bauquier 1990, no. 132).
"The Sale Room." Apollo 100 (October 1974), p. 345, ill., notes that it sold at Christie's on July 1 [sic], 1974 for £84,000.
John Herbert, ed. Christie's Review of the Season 1974. London, 1974, ill. p. 145 (color).
Geraldine Norman. "Cézanne, Renoir and Monet Unsold in Erratic Bidding." Times (July 3, 1974), p. 2, notes that it sold to Acquavella at Christie's on July 2, 1974.
Angelica Zander Rudenstine. The Guggenheim Museum Collection: Paintings 1880–1945. Vol. 2, New York, 1976, p. 468.
François Daulte. "Beauté, mon beau souci: à propos d'une exposition à la Galerie Daniel Malingue." L'Œil no. 299 (June 1980), p. 48, fig. 2 (color).
Sabine Rewald inTwentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. Ed. William S. Lieberman. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1989, pp. 151–53, 302, ill. (color and bw), notes that Léger worked on this picture at the hospital in Villepinte while recovering from war injuries [Léger was at Villepinte from March 14–May 31, 1918; see "Fernand Léger," ex. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 265]; mentions the MoMA version (Bauquier 1990, no. 132) and two similar paintings of tugboats (1918; Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne and private collection; Bauquier 1990, nos. 129, 130, illustrating studies for both subjects (1917; Kunstmuseum Bern and private collection).
Georges Bauquier assisté de Nelly Maillard. Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné. Vol. 1, 1903–1919. Paris, 1990, pp. 236–37, no. 131, ill. (color), calls it "Le Marinier".
Christian Derouet, ed. Correspondances Fernand Léger–Léonce Rosenberg, 1917–1937. Paris, 1996, p. 26, no. 18, n. 1, p. 34, no. 32, n. 1, p. 67, no. 65, n. 4, p. 260, identifies it among recent paintings that Léger invites Rosenberg to see [Ref. Léger 1918]; publishes Rosenberg invoice and inventory stating that this work was painted in March 1918 and purchased from Léger on March 7, 1918; on different pages, identifies no. 92 in Exh. Geneva 1920 as this painting and the MoMA version.
Another version of this composition, showing the head of the bargeman, is in the Museum of Modern Art, New York (Bauquier 1990, no. 132). A watercolor study, more closely related to the MMA picture, is owned by the Kunstmuseum Bern.