Léger (Fernand)

Lot 65
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Estimation :
3000 - 5000 EUR
Result with fees
Result : 4 098EUR
Léger (Fernand)
Ɵ Autograph war letter signed to Maurice Raynal. Neufour-Argonne, February 8, 1915. 4 pages in-8 (21.3 x 13.3 cm) on a bifeuillet of squared paper. Devauchelle folder. Extraordinary, long and humorous unpublished letter, written from the front to critic Maurice Raynal, featuring Ricciotto Canudo, Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, André Salmon, André Mare, Jacques Nayral, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Henri Kahnweiler, and the Garibaldi against the backdrop of the Great War. Fernand Léger (1881-1955) was mobilized in August 1914 as a sapper in the engineers, then sent to fight in Argonne in October. He remained a private until 1917, complaining in February 1915: "This story is taking too long...". He tells of his time in the medical service, where he became a stretcher-bearer, and then recounts with irony the dramatic deployment of the Garibaldi Legion, a corps of Italian volunteers commanded by Garibaldi's grandsons. Routed by the German armies, the unit was immediately withdrawn, only to be disbanded when Italy entered the war. With equal humor, he recounts his meeting with the writer Ricciotto Canudo, founder of the magazine Montjoie! to which Léger had contributed before the war, before evoking Apollinaire, Salmon, Picasso, Mare and the Futurists, and humorously apologizing for having inverted a syllable in his name, confusing his correspondent Maurice Raynal with the poet Jacques Nayral, who had just been killed at the front. Almost 20 years before Voyage au bout de la nuit, the almost Célinian style of this letter is almost as striking as the anecdotes it relates: "My dear Raynal, I saw your card last night. I'm glad to hear from you. If I didn't answer you sooner, it's for a very major reason: our explosives depot blew up with about fifteen houses behind it. My billet was one of those 15 houses, and everything was destroyed. By chance, all the men were outside and there was very little damage [...] Maybe you've been told that I've been transferred to the Company Medical Service, so I've given up active service for a more prosaic but less grueling job. I spent most of the winter in the cantonment, in conditions that were possible but where I was bored out of my mind. It's taking too long, and the heroic sappers are getting just as fed up as the comrades. For example, we had some quality diversions. My company was on the Balande plateau with the Garibaldians on the day Bruno died. They went there straight as romantics with bugles and grand gestures. They were received in you-know-what fashion; their old-fashioned way of doing things still looks good, they made history and we made politics. Everyone's happy: but I didn't think this demonstration would bring Canudo to the Argonne. He had already appeared on a postcard on a large horse with three stripes. I had found him very ridiculous. I saw him here, and to sum up, he's just like the others. He's even been to the front, where he's said to have done very well. Bravo Canudo! But I hear from Jeanne [Jeanne Lohy, whom Léger married in 1919] that he's now in Paris with the rest of the Garibaldi sons. It's deplorable. These people are wasting a beautiful gesture. They remind me of Marinetti's Futurists, that whole gang. And of course they're being used, and how. Captain Canudo's words were admirable. I meet him, he arrives and asks in the most natural way: Where can we eat here? And as there was no Chartier restaurant in the vicinity, I ended up serving him the qq eggs that his orderly had cooked. He arrived here as if he'd just come from Montjoie, with a concern for avoiding the mud that amused me greatly. He really wasn't up to date, and I doubt he'd make a great captain. I'm also surprised to learn that Salmon has become a machine-gunner. Do you know Appolinaire's [sic] address? He's an artilleryman in Nîmes in the heavy artillery formations. The only thing missing is Picasso, but Picasso is Spanish. The Spanish are very big and... there are no uniforms! [...] I have two desires: I'd like to see lit streets and pissoirs. And I also think it would be amazing to come back from this. Just for this: to do a still life with the Kraut stuff in my bag. And sell it to Kahnweiler! Fernand Léger". The war was very important in the evolution of Léger's art, and he reported that since then, he had been focusing on the "object" and the "useful real", whereas before he was in the army, he had been evolving towards a more abstract form.
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