Fernand Léger. Three Women. 1921-22

Fernand Léger

Three Women


Oil on canvas
6' 1/4" x 8' 3" (183.5 x 251.5 cm)
Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund
Object number
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Painting and Sculpture
This work is not on view.
Fernand Léger has 65 works online.
There are 2,309 paintings online.

This painting represents a group of three reclining nudes drinking tea or coffee in a chic apartment. While the reclining nude is a common subject in art history, these women's bodies have been simplified into rounded and dislocated forms, their skin not soft but firm, buffed, and polished. The machinelike precision and solidity with which Léger renders human form relates to his faith in modern industry and to his hope that art and the machine age would together reverse the chaos unleashed by World War I.

Gallery label from 2006

In Three Women, Léger translates a common theme in art history—the reclining nude—into a modern idiom, simplifying the female figure into a mass of rounded and somewhat dislocated forms, the skin not soft but firm, even unyielding. The machinelike precision and solidity that Léger gives his women's bodies relate to his faith in modern industry, and to his hope that art and the machine age would together remake the world. The painting's geometric equilibrium, its black bands and panels of white, suggest his awareness of Mondrian, an artist then becoming popular. Another stylistic trait is the return to variants of classicism, which was widespread in French art after the chaos of World War I. Though buffed and polished, the simplified volumes of Léger's figures are, nonetheless, in the tradition of classicists of the previous century.

A group of naked women taking tea, or coffee, together may also recall paintings of harem scenes, for example, by Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres, although there the drink might be wine. Updating the repast, Léger also updates the setting—a chic apartment, decorated with fashionable vibrancy. And the women, with their flat-ironed hair hanging to one side, have a Hollywood glamour. The painting is like a beautiful engine, its parts meshing smoothly and in harmony.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 100

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.
1921, Fernand Léger, Paris.
1921 - April 27, 1923, Léonce Rosenberg (Galerie L’effort modern), Paris, acquired from the artist.
April 27, 1923 - at least 1925, Fernand Léger, Paris, received back from Léonce Rosenberg.
By 1928 - 1942, Paul Rosenberg, Paris, New York, probably acquired from the artist.
1942, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchased from Paul Rosenberg.

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