With a career spanning over 50 years, Fernand Léger (French, 1881–1955) worked with a multitude of media, such as paint, ceramic, print, large-scale murals, film, theater and dance sets, glass, and book arts. Early in his career, after viewing works by Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906), he abandoned his impressionistic style and began working in a style that eventually came to be known as Cubism. At the 1911 Salon des Independents, Léger exhibited paintings that solidified his role as a major Cubist painter. Within Cubism he concerned himself with color, shape, and volume, as in Contrast of Forms (1913), and Exit the Ballets Russes (1914). His artistic career was put on hold when he was recruited by the army in 1914. He returned with a head injury after being gassed at Verdun in 1916. This experience cemented Léger’s interest in social issues and justice, and imbued his paintings with more socially-conscious subject matter, as seen in Verdun, The Trench Diggers (1916).
Léger founded the Académie de l’Art Moderne at his studio in 1924 with fellow French Cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant (1886–1966). The Académie lasted until 1939, and during this time he developed Tubism—a style in which human body parts and architectural elements are rendered with three-dimensional shading to look like voluminous tubes and cylinders. Also in 1924, he completed his first film, Ballet Mécanique. Léger relocated to New York to escape World War II, and taught a lecture series at Yale which many artists attended, influencing New York School painters. Léger returned to France in 1946, where he became intensely-involved with the Communist Party. In the 1950s, the series paintings Builders, Campers, and The Big Parade illustrated a concern for the common man, inspired by Léger’s view of electrical workers atop poles. In his effort to have his works seen by the common man he temporarily installed several of the Builders paintings in the canteen at the Renault factory near Paris, where they met mixed reactions. He continued to travel and produce works in various media until his death in 1955.