Woman with a Cat
Fernand Léger (French, Argentan 1881–1955 Gif-sur-Yvette)
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 "mechanica" 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.