During the 1920s, Fernand Léger was closely allied with Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfant, leaders of the Purism movement, which concentrated on the pristine representation of everyday objects. Perhaps as a result of his large-scale mural projects and the cleaner contours of Purist art, the space in Léger’s paintings became less crowded and the forms grew increasingly flat. By the 1930s, the compositional tensions in Léger’s earlier work gave way to calmer, freer forms and a greater openness of space. As Léger described it, “I placed objects in space so that I could take them as a certainty . . . I selected an object, chucked the table away. I put the object in space, minus perspective.”¹ The new buoyancy in his work was achieved less through contrast and dissonance than through lyrical rhythms and harmonious shapes.
At least five oil versions of Composition with Aloes are known to exist, all dating from 1933–37. In Composition with Aloes, No. 4 (1934–35), Léger grouped the elements in a tripartite arrangement against a uniform brown ground. Two crisp vertical bands are surrounded by curvaceous forms, with the animated outline of the aloe plant twisting and swelling on the right. The composition deftly combines the organic and the geometric, the abstract and the representational. The human and the natural spheres gracefully coexist in this work, signaling, by extension, a larger harmony of humankind and nature.