© ADAGP, Paris 2011 © cliché RMN Gérard Blot
The four cyclists, 1943-1948
Oil on canvas
129 x 161.5 cm
Donated by Nadia Léger and Georges Bauquier
Musée national Fernand Léger Inv. 98005
Exiled to the United States during World War II, Léger taught at Yale University and then at Mills College, where he came across young students dressed in non-conformist garish colours, which inspired him to do a series of drawings and paintings called The Cyclists. “Bad taste, brash colour can make full use of its power here... if I had only seen tastefully dressed girls here I wouldn’t have painted my series of cyclists.” Loyal to his idea of the “object figure”, the painter immobilises the cyclists with their racing bikes in a front-on pose. The freely distributed colours on the canvas invigorate the space within the painting. Léger observed this effect of fragmented colouring hundreds of times in the streets of New York under flashing billboards. He explains: “I would be talking to someone with a blue figure, and then twenty seconds later he would become yellow … that colour … it was free, in space. I wanted to do the same thing in my paintings.” Léger first experiments with freely distributing colour outside of the lines in this work, which he began in 1943 in the United States and completed in 1948 on his return to France – which he has indicated beside his signature.
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