Fernand Léger and the rooftops of Paris

Fernand Léger and the rooftops of Paris


Fernand Léger, La partie de cartes, 1917, oil on canvas 129,5 x 194,5 cm

Fernand Léger and the rooftops of Paris

Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, NL

19 Nov 2022 – 02 Apr 2023

The exhibition «Fernand Léger and the Roofs of Paris» traces the development of Léger’s work from 1908 to 1921 and illustrates the artistic context of this period: the Cubist movement of the Picasso-Braque School.

Through a body of 40 paintings and drawings by Fernand Léger as well as artists such as Cézanne, Delaunay, Metzinger, Le Fauconnier, Braque and Picasso, the retrospective explores the artist’s inspirations and experiments. More than half of the works presented come from the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum, the largest collection of Cubist art in the Netherlands.

A dozen works are on loan from major institutions such as the Tate Modern and National Gallery in London, the Kunstmuseum in Basel, and the Narodni Gallery in Prague. The centerpiece of the exhibition, Le 14 juillet (1914), is on loan from the Triton Collection Foundation.

In 1908 Léger made a radical break with the style of his earlier works, moving from a relatively realistic and monochromatic approach to an increasingly abstract and colorful aesthetic. Inspired initially by Paul Cézanne, from whom he borrowed nude motifs, he then experimented with shapes and colors and in 1911-1912 painted the series: Fumées sur les toits. After this series, which marked a turning point in his work, Fernand Léger’s research resulted in the production of Cubist paintings and gave rise to works such as Contrastes de formes (1913-1914) and La partie de cartes (1917).

With the exhibition Fernand Léger and the rooftops of Paris, the Kröller-Müller Museum focuses for the first time on a turning point in Léger’s early work: his quest for abstraction and the decisive role therein of the series Fumées sur les toits. It also features a premiere: the discovery of a hidden painting.

Turning point in his career

 When Fernand Léger (1881-1955) paints the series Fumées sur les toits in the years 1911- 1912, he finds himself at a turning point in his career. He has made a radical departure from the style of his earlier works and initially seeks inspiration from Paul Cézanne in particular. When he moves into a new studio in Paris, he uses the many chimneys and plumes of smoke that he looks out upon as a motif for his experiments. Léger’s quest for more abstraction and more colour ultimately results in cubist works such as Contrastes de formes, which are created on the eve of the First World War. The painting La partie de cartes from 1917, which Helene Kröller-Müller acquires for her collection and which is a high point in Léger’s oeuvre, would also have been unimaginable without the Fumées sur les toits. Fernand Léger regarded the Fumées series as an important moment in his career.

Hidden painting

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a newly discovered painting from this series. The painting appears on the reverse of Léger’s Le quatorze juillet, which was acquired by the Triton Collection Foundation in 1999. The Fumées sur les toits painting was revealed during recent conservation work.


The broader context is formed by the works of the two groups of cubists in Paris: Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque who showed their work mainly in the gallery of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, and the group around Léger, which exhibited at the major Salons and also included Robert Delaunay, Jean Metzinger and Henri Le Fauconnier.

Reflecting on Léger

Concurrently with Fernand Léger and the rooftops of Paris, the museum presents Analogous to Léger, in which Jan Robert Leegte (1973) and Harm van den Dorpel (1981) both reflect on the painting Fumées sur les toits from the Triton Collection Foundation with a digital artwork.

The guest curator for the exhibition Fernand Léger and the roofs of Paris is Sjraar van Heugten, former Head of Collections at the Van Gogh Museum and currently an independent art historian. In 2012, he published Avant-gardes 1870 to the present. The Collection of the Triton Foundation, a comprehensive study of the Foundation’s holdings, commissioned by the Triton Collection Foundation.

Publication on the discovery

A publication on the discovery, in three languages (English, Dutch and French), will accompany the exhibition. Author: Sjraar van Heugten, with an essay by Gwendolyn Boevé-Jones.

Fernand Léger, Nus dans la forêt, 1909-1911 oil on canvas, 120,5 x 170,5 cm. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Robert Delaunay, Study for ‘The city’, 1909 – 1910 oil on canvas, 88,3 × 124,5 cm. Tate, London, presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1958
Visitors in the sculpture garden of the Kröller-Müller Museum, photo: Wieneke Hofland

An international first at Kröller-Müller Museum

For the first time in history, the newly discovered painting can be admired by the public at the exhibition Fernand Léger and the roofs of Paris at the Kröller-Müller Museum from 19 November 2022 until 2 April 2023. The Kröller-Müller Museum holds the largest cubist collection in the Netherlands. Using paintings and drawings by Léger, the exhibition Fernand Léger and the roofs of Paris demonstrates the development Léger experienced. The painting Fumées sur les toits, from the Triton Collection Foundation, is at the core of this. The broader context is formed by works of two groups of cubists in Paris: the group of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who exhibited mainly in Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s gallery, and the group around Léger, who exhibited at the major Salons and also included Robert Delaunay, Jean Metzinger and Henri Le Fauconnier. A prominent work by Paul Cézanne will also be shown in the exhibition.

The Kröller-Müller National Museum

Founded in 1938 by Helene Kröller-Müller, the Kröller-Müller National Museum houses a collection of more than 20,000 works, including the second largest collection of Vincent van Gogh paintings in the world. The institution also houses works by major artists such as Piet Mondrian, Georges Braque, Paul Gauguin, and Pablo Picasso. Located in Otterlo, the Netherlands, at the entrance to a forest park, and designed by architects Henry van de Velde and Wim Quist, the museum is a unique venue that also features a 30-hectare garden dedicated to modern and contemporary sculpture.

The Triton Collection Foundation

The Triton Collection Foundation was established in 1996 and is currently among the two hundred most important private collections in the world. The collection comprises paintings and sculptures by internationally renowned artists from 1870 to the present, from impressionism to the emerging artists of today. That which connects the artists within the collection is their innovative capacity. They were and are the pioneers and ‘innovators’ of their time. The Triton Collection Foundation believes that art should be accessible and shared with the public. A continuous programme of loans to over seventy museums worldwide ensures that a large international audience is able to enjoy the works from the collection.

The exhibition Fernand Léger and the rooftops of Paris is produced in collaboration with the Triton Collection Foundation.

Fernand Léger and the rooftops of Paris

Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, NL

19 Nov 2022 – 02 Apr 2023



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