© ADAGP, Paris 2011 © cliché RMN Gérard Blot
Mona Lisa with keys,
Oil on canvas
91 x 72 cm
Donated by Nadia Léger and Georges Bauquier
Musée national Fernand Léger Inv. 98024
Mona Lisa with keys is the culmination of several years spent by Léger on releasing drawn or painted objects from the traditional surface. “I took the object, I overturned the table, I suspended this object in the air, with no perspective and no support. I dispersed my objects in space and I bound them together by making them radiate from the canvas. A simple series of harmonies and rhythms made up of background and surface colours, leading lines, distances and contrasts, and sometimes unusual encounters.” When Marcel Duchamp drew the moustache and goatee beard on Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, entitling it L.H.O.O.Q, he sparked a challenging of the aesthetic criteria that define what is or isn’t art. This moustached Mona Lisa gave rise to the new considerations given to the place of art in the 20th century. Refreshing painting and modernising the subject were key concerns for Léger who produced his own version of the Mona Lisa in the style of the day: “I had drawn a bunch of keys on the canvas. ... I needed something completely at odds with the keys … and what do I see in a shop window? A postcard of the Mona Lisa! I understood right there and then: she was what I needed, what could have contrasted more with the keys? That’s how I put Mona Lisa on my canvas. Then I added a tin of sardines. It makes for a sharp contrast. This is a painting I’m going to keep, I’m not going to sell it.” Léger refused monotony and nuances. The much-used image of the Mona Lisa printed on a calendar or a visitor’s pass is the equivalent of a set of keys, compass or drawing pen – everyday objects. By comparing the Mona Lisa to a set of keys, this intellectual collage may appear Surrealist. And Léger certainly alludes to this, for the symbolism of each motif is important: the key opens the door to paradise; it bestows power and opens up the way to initiation. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is probably the world’s best-known work of art. A universal treasure, masterpiece and supreme symbol of artistic expression, the Mona Lisa harks back to the Renaissance and the genius of its creator. Her image, as a deposed idol and rendered commonplace on all sorts of publicity items, shop chromos and souvenirs from a visit to the Louvre, is much more interesting for Léger: a copy of the Mona Lisa on a calendar is today comparable with the industrial objects of the modern world. The painter casts the roles judiciously on the canvas by placing the abstract form – the keys – in the foreground, relegating the Mona Lisa to the background. The lines drawn with a ruler or compass, the wavy ribbon, tin of sardines, net surfaces and hazy images heighten the contrasts and strips the Mona Lisa of her original significance.
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