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Reading (portrait of Nadia Léger, the artist's wife)

Painting, 1949, 92×73 cm
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Description of the artwork «Reading (portrait of Nadia Léger, the artist's wife)»

What is more important in the visual arts - color or line? This is a very long-standing dispute. Sometimes it came to direct clashes. For example, when by negligence of the organizer of a dinner party, Delacroix (who fought for color) and Ingres (who stood for line) appeared in one drawing room. Among the later works of Fernand Léger there are paintings in which color and line are self-sufficient, emphatically independent and at the same time happy together (1, 2, 3).

The colored planes in the painting Reading seem to be random, both in their form, and especially in their location: they do not coincide with the image of the object, which is painted in black (that is, in fact, colorless) line. As a result, additional meanings are born from this union of the independent. If, for example, we paint the subject's jacket blue, the book – red, and fill the entire background with yellow, we would get a slightly more understandable, familiar, but absolutely unremarkable portrait of the girl; but the way as it is, when the color and line are out of sync, what we have before us is something that causes association with an emblem or a logo. But isn't it closer to design than to art? Maybe. It is quite in the spirit of the time: in the twentieth century, designers created the images of the icons almost more often than the artists themselves.

A cousin of the poet Vladislav Khodasevich, Nadia Khodasevich, depicted in the portrait, was Fernand Léger's wife in the last three years of his life. Many years before that, she used to be his student and assistant. And even earlier, in Russia – a follower of the ideas of Kazimir Malevich. As an artist, she also thought a lot about color, line, and shape – so the portrait in this style, as they say, became her face.

Nadia Khodasevich, like her teacher, was a member of the Communist party. In the 60's she repeatedly came to the USSR and handed over to the Soviet museums a large collection of works by Fernand Léger. They say that during these visits to the Union, Nadia Léger appeared every day at events in the new mink coat. She explained this as a marketing ploy: if you look rich, people will think that your paintings sell well, and they will want to buy so of them for themselves. At first sight, marketing and communism would seem incompatible. But, as you can see, you can combine anything - even the color and line in the picture, where each of them has a major role.

Author: Natalia Kandaurova
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About the artwork

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Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Portrait

Style of art: Art Nouveau

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1949

Size: 92×73 cm

Artwork in selections: 3 selections

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