Study for the portrait of Madame D.,
Ink and gouache on paper
53.8 x 46.6 cm
Donated by Nadia Léger and Georges Bauquier, 1969
Fernand Léger National Museum, Biot, Inv. MNFL 98015
Taken from a large sketchbook, this preliminary study is for a somewhat unusual commission to paint the portrait of Mrs Maud Dale. Set on painting things and people without taking account of emotions or feelings, Léger was usually wary of accepting this type of exercise. This, then, was an exception to his rule, as in this particular case the artist undertook to paint a woman of the world, wife of a rich American businessman and art collector. There is nothing spontaneous here – the pose is calculated and the drawings in the sketchbook envisage all possibilities. Standing or seated? With the dining-room or the library as a background? This study focuses on the position of the bust, which is set to the right, and shows the library and the finely striated chair back. The ink and gouache give us the essential characteristics of the model, who is wearing a simple dress complemented by a scarf draped over one shoulder. The large final portrait, which is conserved by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, makes a balance between the model’s gentle face, which is depicted with a profound realism, and her hieratic, heavily draped pose, reminiscent of a classical sculpture illustrative of dignity and benevolence.