After Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger was the dominant French painter of the 20th century. For many years the National Gallery of Art had only two relatively minor paintings by the artist (both Chester Dale Collection, given in 1963). This changed with the 1991 gift of Two Women, 1922, from Richard S. Zeisler and the 2008 gift of Animated Landscape, 1921; both paintings date from one of the high points of Léger's career.
Animated Landscape makes a fascinating comparison with Two Women. In both paintings, Léger put two figures in a dense architectonic setting, but in Animated Landscape the figures are men, not women, and the setting is a suburban landscape, not a sophisticated interior. Still, Léger's ambition in both works was to take the new, mechanized image of the body that grew from his harrowing wartime experience (the shiny tubular limbs derived, he said, from "the barrel of my gun") and place it harmoniously in architecture and nature. Léger's fusion of art-historical sources is just as ambitious: we see Picasso's cubism (in the treatment of the figures), Henri Rousseau's primitivism (in the tree trunks), and Mondrian's neo-plasticism (in the black rectilinear structure and use of primary colors). All of these elements circulate around the unlikely central figure of a placid bull—a welcome note of humor in a dense and challenging picture, an enigmatic semi-urban pastoral.
Other paintings from the early 1920s with the same title and a similar cast of characters indicate that the Gallery's work forms part of a small but important series. It is the first version of a painting (also 1921) in a Montreal collection, but is smaller and more summary—lacking details such as knots in the trees and an eye for the bull, and thus placing more emphasis on form and structure. The sign at right, which looks like a Roman numeral in the earlier picture, is legible as vins (wines) in the later one.
Animated Landscape was purchased by Sidney Janis around 1950 and was among the works he donated to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1967. Some years later Janis bought it back, and the painting remained with the family until it was given to the Gallery in 2008.
upper left reverse: Paysage Anime / Ie ETAT / F LEGER / 21
(Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Berlin). André Lefèvre (d. 1963), Paris. (Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris); (The Mayor Gallery, London); purchased 1949 by Sidney Janis [1896-1989], New York; gift 1967 with his collection to The Museum of Modern Art, New York; deaccessioned and sold back to Sidney Janis, New York; by inheritance to his son, Carroll Janis, New York; gift 2008 to NGA.
- Fernand Léger, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Berlin, 1928, no. 16, as Die Viehändler I (The Cattle-Dealer).
- Fernand Léger, The Mayor Gallery, London, 1938, no. 2.
- Early Léger: Oil Paintings 1911-25, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1951, no. 21.
- Fernand Léger, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1952, no. 14.
- Fernand Léger: Major Themes, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1957, no. 13, repro.
- In Memoriam, American Federation of Arts touring exhibition to the following venues: Grand Rapids Art Gallery; J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville; Jacksonville Art Museum; Coe College, Cedar Rapids; Bowling Green State University; Winston-Salem Public Library; Time, Inc., New York; Quincy Art Club, Illinois; Springfield Art Museum, Missouri, 1957-1958, no. 17.
- 6th Exhibition of Paintings by Fernand Léger Selected from the Years 1918-1954, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1960-1961, no. 7, repro.
- The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, touring exhibition, 1968.
- Fernand Léger, Grand Palais, Paris, 1971-1972, no. 56, repro.
- Von Picasso bis Warhol: 100 Werke aus dem Museum of Modern Art in New York (The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection), Kunstalle Cologne, 1971, no. 52, repro.
- Fernand Léger, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Berlin, 1980-1981, no. 30, repro.
- Fernand Léger, Albright Knox Museum, Buffalo; Dallas Museum of Art; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montreal, 1982, no. 22, repro.
- Exhibition of Paintings by Fernand Léger, FIAC at Grand Palais, Paris, 1984, no. 14, repro.
- Cooper, Harry. "Fernand Léger, Paysage Animé." Bulletin / National Gallery of Art, no. 41 (Fall 2009): 19, repro.