Fernand Léger drew on Cubism to formulate his own unique approach to depicting the marvels of modern industrial life. Between 1918 and 1955 he made some two hundred printed images, the majority of which appeared as illustrations in books and journals. He often employed photomechanical processes, which allowed his works to be printed in large editions in widely distributed ephemeral formats such as journal covers and theater programs.
Léger rose to prominence as a painter when Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, a celebrated Parisian dealer and publisher, exhibited his work in 1910. After World War I, he became increasingly interested in non-traditional mediums, making murals, designing tapestries, costumes, and theater and film sets, and eventually completing a film in 1924. He turned to book illustration and graphic design in this spirit, completing his first book project in 1918.
Originally conceived as a screenplay by Blaise Cendrars, La Fin du monde was instead published as a novel when funding for the movie fell through. The story is a satire in which God, in the guise of a cigar-smoking American businessman, promotes an apocalyptic war on earth as entertainment for the god Mars. In the book format, Léger’s illustrations become integral to conveying the filmic progression of the text. Amid his illustrations, Léger includes fragments of Cendrars’s text as boldly colored stenciled and block letters, inspired by his love of street signs and silent-movie titles. His dynamic, fractured compositions create a simulation of the moving images of film as the pages of the book are turned.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Harper Montgomery, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 72.