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Le Grand Remorqueur (The Great Tugboat)

1923

Oil on canvas
125 x 190.6 cm
Donated by Nadia Léger and Georges Bauquier
Fernand Léger National Museum, Biot
MNFL 96007

In the centre of the composition, a tugboat is making its way slowly up the river (probably the Seine in Vernon, where the artist lived), very much resembling a mobile stage set. The background consists of a semi-urban landscape scattered with buildings and hills. The fragmented shapes are evidence of cubist influence from the pre-war years, as well as of the pull of the cinematographic aesthetic. The effects of framing, zoom and editing dynamise this genre scene in which the boat is the leading actor. As always with Fernand Léger, nothing is left to improvisation: following the initial pencil studies come painted variations ending up with a final version, forming a series. During the same period, the artist lent his talents to a number of theatrical productions, including designing sets and costumes for the Swedish Ballets’ “Skating Rink” (1922), and this painting is most probably related to a set for a music-hall turn.
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