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Woman with a Cat

Fernand Léger (French, Argentan 1881–1955 Gif-sur-Yvette)

Date:
1921
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
51 3/8 x 35 1/4 in. (130.5 x 89.5 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of Florene M. Schoenborn, 1994
Accession Number:
1994.486
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Description

    As a young man in France, Fernand Léger was apprenticed to an architect (1897–99), then worked as an architectural draftsman (1900–02) and a photographic retoucher (1903–04). He studied art at the École des Arts Décoratifs and the Académie Julian in Paris. Along with Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris, Léger ranks among the foremost Cubist painters of the teens. Even after the height of Cubism, his paintings continued to utilize pure color and to employ forms that had been simplified into the geometric components of the cone, cube, and sphere. After World War I, when Léger became friends with Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfant, who were leaders of the Purist movement in Paris (ca. 1918–ca. 1925), his work exemplified the "machine aesthetic."


    "Woman with a Cat" belongs to a group of monumental female figures — some reading, others drinking cups of tea — that are emblematic of the artist's new grand figure style from his "mechanical" period of 1918–23. These works might be seen as preparatory for his large masterpiece "Three Women (Le Grand Déjeuner)" of 1921 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and its two smaller variants. Léger also painted variations of the single-figure composition and made a slightly smaller, nearly identical version of "Woman with a Cat" (Kunsthalle, Hamburg).


    Motionless, hierarchic, and frontal, this colossal creature seems made of some undefinable rubberized substance. The powerful large nude woman, painted in grisaille, is composed of spheres, cones, and tubes. She leans against billowing pillows — one off-white, the other a black-and-yellow diamond pattern. A yellow blanket protects her lap, upon which rests an open book and a cat. Her mane of black hair covers half of her white spherical face. The stark simplicity of the composition is matched by the reduced palette of red, yellow, black, and white.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): F. LÉGER. 21

  • Provenance

    Gottlieb Friedrich Reber, Lugano and Lausanne (by 1931–at least 1957); [M. Knoedler & Co., New York, until 1958; sold on November 11, 1958, for $38,000, to Marx]; Samuel and Florene Marx, Chicago (1958–his d. 1964); Florene May Marx, later Mrs. Wolfgang Schoenborn, New York (1964–94; her gift to MMA)

  • Exhibition History

    Frankfurt. Städelsche Kunstinstitut. "Vom Abbild zum Sinnbild," June 3–July 3, 1931, no. 133 (as "Frau mit Katze," lent from a private collection).

    London. Alex Reid & Lefevre, Ltd. "Masterpieces by 20th Century French Painters: 'L'Ecole de Paris'," January–February 1932, no. 9 (as "La Femme au Chat," lent by Dr. Reber, Lausanne [Switzerland]).

    Kunsthalle Bern. "Fernand Léger," April 10–May 25, 1952, no. 24 (as "La Femme au chat," lent by Dr. Reber, Lausanne).

    Musée de Lyon. "Fernand Léger," June 28–September 30, 1955, no. 21 (as "La femme au chat," lent by Docteur Reber, Lausanne).

    Kunsthalle Basel. "Fernand Léger," May 22–June 23, 1957, no. 30 (as "La femme au chat," lent by Dr. G. F. Reber, Lausanne).

    Kunsthaus Zürich. "Fernand Léger," July 6–August 17, 1957, no. 38 (as "La femme au chat," lent by Dr. G. F. Reber, Lausanne).

    New York. Museum of Modern Art, New York. "The School of Paris: Paintings from the Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx Collection," November 1, 1965–January 2, 1966, unnumbered cat. (p. 39; as "Woman with Cat").

    Art Institute of Chicago. "The School of Paris: Paintings from the Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx Collection," February 11–March 27, 1966, unnumbered cat.

    City Art Museum of Saint Louis. "The School of Paris: Paintings from the Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx Collection," April 26–June 13, 1966, unnumbered cat.

    Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City. "The School of Paris: Paintings from the Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx Collection," July 2–August 7, 1966, unnumbered cat.

    San Francisco Museum of Art. "The School of Paris: Paintings from the Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx Collection," September 2–October 2, 1966, unnumbered cat.

    Buenos Aires. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. "De Cézanne a Miró," May 15–June 5, 1968, unnumbered cat. (p. 35; lent by the Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx collection, New York).

    Santiago. Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de la Universidad de Chile. "De Cézanne a Miró," June 26–July 17, 1968, unnumbered cat.

    Caracas. Museo de Bellas Artes. "De Cézanne a Miró," August 4–25, 1968, unnumbered cat.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Florene M. Schoenborn Bequest: 12 Artists of the School of Paris," February 11–May 4, 1997, extended to August 31, 1997, brochure no. 9.

    Kunsthaus Zürich. "Max Beckmann and Paris: Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Léger, Rouault," September 25, 1998–January 3, 1999, no. 74.

    Saint Louis Art Museum. "Max Beckmann and Paris: Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Léger, Rouault," February 6–May 9, 1999, no. 74.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painters in Paris: 1895 1950," March 8–December 31, 2000, extended to January 14, 2001, unnumbered cat. (p. 90).

    Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Picasso and the School of Paris: Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," September 14–November 24, 2002, no. 37.

    Tokyo. Bunkamura Museum of Art. "Picasso and the School of Paris: Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," December 7, 2002–March 9, 2003, no. 37.

  • References

    Lucy R. Lippard in The School of Paris: Paintings from the Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx Collection. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York, 1965, p. 39, ill.

    Dorothy Kosinski. "G. F. Reber: Collector of Cubism." Burlington Magazine 133 (August 1991), p. 530.

    Georges Bauquier assisté de Nelly Maillard. Fernand Léger: Catalogue raisonné. Vol. 2, 1920–1924. Paris, 1992, pp. 182–83, no. 306, ill.

    Sabine Rewald in "Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1994–1995." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 53 (Autumn 1995), p. 61, ill. (color).

    Carol Vogel. "32 Works of Art by Masters Left to Met and the Modern." New York Times (November 25, 1996), p. C12.

    William S. Lieberman. "Donnés au Met." Connaissance des arts, no. 539 (May 1997), p. 71, ill. (color).

    Grace Glueck. "When One City Was the Heart of Art's Youth." New York Times (March 10, 2000), p. E39, ill. p. E35.

    Peter Kropmanns and Uwe Fleckner. "Von Kontinentaler Bedeuteung: Gottlieb Friedrich Reber und Seine Sammlungen." Die Moderne und Ihre Sammler: Französische Kunst in Deutschem Privatbesitz vom Kaiserreich zur Weimarer Republik. Ed. Andrea Pophanken and Felix Billeter. Berlin, 2001, p. 398, no. 2.

    William S. Lieberman in Picasso and the School of Paris: Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exh. cat., Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. [Tokyo], 2002, pp. 91, 94, 167, no. 37, ill. (color).

    Holland Cotter. "The Hidden Collection." New York Times (August 15, 2008), ill. p. E25 (color detail).

    "Answers: Where the Animals Are." New York Times (August 22, 2008), ill. p. E26.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 407, ill. (color).

  • See also
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