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Builgers (Builders with Aloe)

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1951, 160×200 cm • Oil, Canvas

Description of the artwork «Builgers (Builders with Aloe)»

"Later, like Mayakovsky, he struggled with art. But Mayakovsky shot himself, while Léger survived and won," wrote Sergei Dovlatov in the story Fernand Léger's Jacket.

Mayakovsky was familiar with Léger and his works, and left memories about their meeting in Paris. They are dated 1922, almost 30 years before the creation of Builders, but quite describe the canvas from the collection of the Pushkin Museum: "I examine his significant painting. I'm pleased with his aesthetics of industrial forms and the absence of fear of the most brutal realism. I'm impressed with his artisan attitude to paint (unlike that of the French artists) – not as to a means of transferring some air, but as to the material, painting things."
There are clouds in this picture. But, indeed, this is not some elusive "air", typical of Impressionists, but the real things – no more noble and sublime than the beams of scaffolding. And why should they be sublime if the person building the high-voltage towers has already leveled with the clouds?

Léger saw this scene on his way to Chevreuse (an old town near Paris), and repeated it many times in a series of works with builders. He was impressed by the little men who reached the skies and created with their own hands something, against the background of which they looked like ants. But in the end, the builders in the picture don't look like small cogs of the industrial era.

Léger was an optimist. He liked where the world was moving, filled with machines, steel and new powerful technologies. And although the artist didn't not pay much attention to painting out individual characters, their nature and emotions, it is clear to us that they are optimistic about the future, and don't even seem tired from working under the clouds. The aloe, pushed out by a metal construction in a corner of the canvas, is also not particularly sad. It's painted in a very cheerful shade of green, so that we could suspect the artist of depressive thoughts about the state of the environment – in the early 1950s, time for such worries had not yet come. It seems that aloe, like the artist, just curiously watches the construction works.

"Léger is an epic painter. That is not to say that he paints illustrations to Homer. It is to say that he sees his constant subject of mechanization as a human epic, an unfolding adventure of which man is the hero," wrote the art critic John Berger, "If the word was not discredited one could equally say that he was a monumental painter. He is not concerned with individual psychology or with nuances of sensation: he is concerned with action and conquest."
It is believed that the "realness" of art is checked by whether new generations are able to discover their own meanings in a work of art and to feel it modern. Léger's painting easily stands this test. It is easy to imagine it revived – in a computer game, in the form of a GIF or Google Doodle marking the World Builder's day. Or the World Day of protecting aloe from the builders.

Author: Natalia Kandaurova



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About the artwork
Subject and objects: Portrait, Genre scene
Style of art and technique: Art Nouveau, Oil

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