Thursday, 8 May 2014


The recent sale of Léger's Deux Figures et une Fleur (1949) reminded me of an article by Sylvester illustrated by a similar work. The article, titled 'The Plight of Paris' (1952) was written to demonstrate Sylvester's thesis about the decline of French art, and the lack of heirs to the generation of Léger and his peers.
Three years later, in 1955, Sylvester published a brief article in The Times titled 'End of the Streamlined Era in Painting and Sculpture'. As usual in The Times, the by-line simply read 'from a correspondent'. In that article, Sylvester states that 'rough surfaces [Bacon, Giacometti] have taken the place of smooth ones [Léger]'. The art of the fifties was jagged, unfinished-looking (unfinishable?) where that of the previous generation aspired to perfection.
Léger died fifteen days after the article was published. Sylvester had known the artist well and visited him frequently when living in Paris in the late 1940s. He later stated that Léger was one of 'the greatest human beings' he had known, and that the artist felt undervalued in comparison with Picasso and Braque. 'Of course he was', said Sylvester, but he noted that Léger would probably be pretty happy with his current reputation. That was in the early 1990s, and I think it's still true.

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