Léger was one of the most prominent and prolific artists working in Paris in the first half of the twentieth century. He was first associated with the avant-garde in 1909, when he exhibited his work at the Salon d'Automne in the company of artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Constantin Brancusi. His early mature work was strongly influenced by Cubism and, after serving in World War I, he developed a personal style of abstraction that further manifested the speed and dynamism of contemporary society.
Léger's "mechanical period," which lasted from about 1918 to 1923, reflects his infatuation with the machine and with modern technology. Works from this period are characterized by recurring interchangeable geometric elements-among them, the cone, the cylinder, and the disk-that seem suspended in a completely flat or shallow, relieflike space. Actually, none of these works depicts identifiable mechanical parts, but, instead, each is meant to evoke the impersonality of a new machine age.
In this picture, we are confronted with a rather cheerful and decorative mechanized world of abstracted joints, pistons, and levers. Set against a framework of thick, black horizontal and vertical lines, Léger's "mechanical elements" are composed of tightly interlocking circles, ellipses, curves, diagonals, rectangles, dots, and groups of parallel wavy lines. In their syncopated arrangement, these brightly colored forms bring to mind the urban architecture, new modes of transportation, and time-saving technologies that were transforming the modern world.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): F LEGER/ 20 (verso): ÉLÉMENT MÉCANIQUE/ F LEGER (DEFINI... [?])/ 20
[Theodore Schempp, New York; sold to Stendahl]; [Stendahl Galleries, Los Angeles, until 1951; sold on December 28, 1951 to Janis]; [Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1951–52; sold in February 1952 to private collection, Chicago]; private collection, Chicago (1952–86; sold in 1986 to Mazoh); [Stephen Mazoh & Co., New York, from 1986]; [E. V. Thaw & Co., Inc., New York, 1987; sold to Gelman]; Natasha Gelman, Mexico City and New York (1987–d. 1998; her bequest to MMA)
New York. Sidney Janis Gallery. "French Masters 1901–50," February 18–March 22, 1952, unnum. brochure.
New York. Sidney Janis Gallery. "Léger: Major Themes," January 2–February 2, 1957, no. 12.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. "Selections from the Joseph Randall Shapiro Collection," December 20, 1969–February 1, 1970, no. 42 (as "Elément Mécanique").
Art Institute of Chicago. "The Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Randall Shapiro Collection," February 23–April 14, 1985, no. 84.
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. 20 (as "Les Eléments Mécaniques [Mechanical Elements]," lent by the Gelman Collection).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Fondation Maeght. "Fernand Léger: Rétrospective," July 2–October 2, 1988, no. 33 (as "Les Éléments mécaniques," 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. 163).
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. 187).
Dennis Adrian inThe Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Randall Shapiro Collection. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, 1985, pp. 20–21, 111, no. 84, fig. 64 (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. 162–64, 302, ill. (color and bw).
Georges Bauquier assisté de Nelly Maillard. Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné. Vol. 2, 1920–1924. Paris, 1992, pp. 78–79, no. 237, ill. (color), as "Les Éléments mécaniques".
Isabelle de Wavrin. "L'Œil infaillible de Jacques Gelman." Beaux Arts no. 125 (July-August 1994), ill. p. 46 (color).