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Fernand LEGER Lettre sur le jazz et la peinture : « J'ai souvent pensé en les écoutant à des équivalences colorées possibles »

Fernand LEGER

Lettre sur le jazz et la peinture : « J'ai souvent pensé en les écoutant à des équivalences colorées possibles »

[s.d.] circa 1948, 14,6x19cm, 2 pages sur un feuillet.


Letter about jazz and painting: «J'ai souvent pensé en les écoutant à des équivalences colorées possibles" "When listening to them I have often thought of the possible colour equivalents"

[n.d.] circa 1948, 14.6 x 19 cm, 2 pages on one leaf

Magnificent and unpublished handwritten letter signed by Fernand Léger about American jazz and colours, addressed to Gaston Criel, author of a pioneering essay on "Swing."
The painter looks back on his exile in the United States from 1940 to 1945, talks about Louis Armstrong and of his captivating discovery of experimental jazz in New York, in the company of the Afro-American painters of the Harlem Renaissance.

29 lines in black ink, written on one leaf.

The hand-written letter is presented under a half forest green morocco chemise, green paper boards with a stylised motif, endpapers lined with green lamb, slip case lined with the same morocco, the piece is signed by Goy & Vilaine.
Léger replies to Georges Criel and congratulates him on his American jazz essay: "Votre « swing » m'intéresse. Vous avez trouvé un style sonore qui colle au sujet". "Your 'swing' interests me. You have found a sound style that suits the subject." Indeed, in his essay entitled Swing, Criel had adopted the very "bebop" rhythmic style that Léger had had the opportunity to listen to in New York. This first French language study of jazz was unanimously recognised, by the likes of Sartre and Stravinsky, Gide, Senghor and Poulenc. The undated letter was written in 1948, the year Criel's essay was published. After a long exile in the United States between 1940 and 1945, Léger went back to France and joined the communist party . Living in Paris, at the same time he reopened his painting academy in a new location on Boulevard de Clichy, which will bring him an influx of American students, former demobilised GIs such as Sam Francis and Kenneth Noland.
As early as 1924, Léger was acquainted with jazz and America at the same time in his experimental film Ballet mécanique, shot by the Americans Dudley Murphy and Man Ray, on music by Duke Ellington and George Antheil. Three stays in New York between 1931 and 1939, many projects and meetings - particularly with the writer Dos Passos - had familiarised Léger with this city that was emblematic of modernity. However, it was his exile during the war that really introduced him to America and to jazz music: "J'ai pu pendant 5 ans d'Amérique réagir pour ou contre cette expression nègre" " "I was able, during 5 years of America, to react in favour or against this negro expression." In 1941, he discovered the country whilst travelling on a bus towards the West, he gave lectures in California and had his Ballet Mécanique screened at the famous experimental university Black Mountain in North Carolina. It is also in the United States that, in 1942, he invented a new use of colour, inspired by the way advertising lights sweep the facades of Time Square: colour is now separated from the drawing, and gives rise to the painting Starfish (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), his series of "Cyclistes" "Cyclists" (Biot, Musée national Fernand Léger) and the "Plongeurs" "Divers," of which he produces a enormous copy in 1943 for the architect's house, Rockefeller, Wallace K. Harrison, in Long Island.
Jazz, synonymous with modernity and freedom, was also an opportunity to explore colour. Léger gives his sound experiences a striking synthetic description: "J'ai souvent pensé en les écoutant à des équivalences colorées possibles. Les sardanes espagnols par exemple c'est de la couleur pure. Jaune bleu rouge. Le Jazz comporterait souvent des nuances" "When listening to them I have often thought of the possible colour equivalents. The Spanish Sardanas, for example, are pure in colour. Yellow blue red. Jazz often contains different shades." He helped in New York's clubs as bebop emerged, a new form of fast-paced jazz with breath-taking skill, whose harmonic and rhythmic innovations left their mark on the painter in his compositions. The painter recalls the discovery of this furious jazz in the 1940s: "La confusion du départ m'intéressait surtout. Leur côté animal instinctif s'y donnant à plein ; des cris sourd aigus. Des bruits incontrolable [sic] ayant une valeur spontanée étonnante, ensuite la domestication de cette jolie sauvagerie s'établissait en bon ou en mal." "The confusion at the start interested me particularly. Their natural wild side giving its all; loud, shrill cries. The uncontrollable noises having a surprising, spontaneous value, next the domestication of this pretty savagery was established for good or for bad." The shiny brass instruments with the "cris aigus" "shrill cries" recall the shapes and sounds of the painter's cherished machines that he has used since his "période mécanique" "mechanical period" in the 1920s. He finishes his letter with a vibrant tribute to Louis Armstrong, whilst also resurrecting his past as a soldier: "Armstrong lui ça va plus loin, c'est de l'acier sous la lumière. La magie d'une culasse de 75?ouverte en plein soleil. Éblouissant" "Armstrong goes further, it is steel under the light. The magic of a breech of a 75?open to the direct sunlight. Dazzling"
In permanent search for modernity, Léger immersed himself in the Greenwich Village bohemian life and discovered the Afro-American New York culture, in full swing in the 1940s: "Mes camaraderies de jeunes peintres noirs m'ont permis d'assister à des « entrainements » pour des recherches de jazzs nouveaux." "My young black painter friends allowed me attend 'training sessions' to research new jazz." His contact with the black artistic avant-garde continued in his Parisian painting academy after his departure from the United States, where he taught painter John Wilson, a prominent member of the Harlem Resistance movement, Robert Colescott, and Jamaican Karl Parboosingh. It is also at this point, around 1948, that the young Ellsworth Kelly, an important figure in minimalism, came to ask for guidance. In addition, Léger's style and modernist philosophy left a permanent mark on the American artistic landscape as a precursor to the Pop Art movement.
A rare and unpublished account of Fernand Léger's New York experiences and the sensory impact that jazz had on his painting.  
« Cher monsieur Criel,
Votre « swing » m'intéresse. Vous avez trouvé un style sonore qui colle au sujet. J'ai pu pendant 5 ans d'Amérique réagir pour ou contre cette expression nègre.
Mes camaraderies de jeunes peintres noirs m'ont permis d'assister à des « entrainements » pour des recherches de jazzs nouveaux.
La confusion du départ m'intéressait surtout. Leur côté animal instinctif s'y donnant à plein ; des cris sourd aigus. Des bruits incontrolable ayant une valeur spontanée étonnante, ensuite la domestication de cette jolie sauvagerie s'établissait en bon ou en mal.
J'ai souvent pensé en les écoutant à des équivalences colorées possibles. Les sardanes espagnols par exemple c'est de la couleur pure. Jaune bleu rouge. Le Jazz comporterait souvent des nuances. Armstrong lui ça va plus loin, c'est de l'acier sous la lumière. La magie d'une culasse de 75?ouverte en plein soleil. Éblouissant.
FLeger
Fernand Léger »
"Dear Mr Criel,
Your 'swing' interests me. You have found a sound style that suits the subject. I was able, during 5 years of America, to react in favour or against this negro expression.
My young black painter friends allowed me attend 'training sessions' to research new jazz.
The confusion at the start interested me particularly. Their natural wild side giving its all; loud, shrill cries. The uncontrollable noises having a surprising, spontaneous value, next the domestication of this pretty savagery was established for good or for bad.
When listening to them I have often thought of the possible colour equivalents. The Spanish Sardanas, for example, are pure in colour. Yellow blue red. Jazz often contains different shades. Armstrong goes further, it is steel under the light. The magic of a breech of a 75?open to the direct sunlight. Dazzling.
FLeger
Fernand Léger »        
 
 
 
 
 

3 500 €

Réf : 65249

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