The drawing displayed in this page was a study piece created out of gouache and oil on tan wove paper. The final painting was titled The Staircase and both were completed around 1913. There is a large number of drawings uncovered from Leger's career, with more being discovered every year. Some of the variety of mediums in which he produced these include graphite, touches of watercolour and gouache. Most of Leger's paintings were particularly complex arrangements of geometric shapes and elements of planning were necessary to get this right in the final piece. It would be particularly hard to amend this type of content because of how every object would have been related to each other.
When you consider related artists, it is perhaps true to say that Leger went into greater detail with his study drawings. If you check out these Malevich drawings, for example, you will see how that artist preferred to simply draw out a rough form of composition and avoid adding too much detail. These would not be presentable as artworks in their own right, really, and fit very much into the category of supporting study work. Other artists went to extraordinary lengths in this medium, completing pieces which can be enjoyed and respected independantly of any other paintings. If you look at the item pictured in this page, you will find that Leger did not worry too much about the fills within his objects but more so wanted to get the arrangements correctly laid out. Many of the Leger drawings can be found in collections within the United States, and are generally priced more competitively than his more expansive paintings.
This allows institutions to pick up groups of them relatively cheapily, whilst at other times they maybe bequethed from local collectors. The Harvard Art Museums, the Thaw Collection, and the Metropolitan Museum hold many of his drawings, plus simple watercolours. A quick browse through them also helps us to understand his processes of work. There are also some portraits which may use of very minimal lines, just the fewest touches of the pen as possible in order to plan out the outline of a particular figure. He captured figures standing or reclining, often focusing on individual figures that were perhaps central to a particular piece. Leger is known to have focused entirely on sketching whilst serving in the Army during WWI. There was simply no other resources available at this time and he is known to have missed painting very much. This spell lasted three years but he was at least able to carry sketchbooks around with him and release some of his creative urges.
He is known to have produced portraits of his fellow servicemen which he enjoyod but this break from oil painting filled him with a renewed passion once he returned. We also know that his time at war would focus his mind on humanity, and this continued to influence the content found in his art once he returned. He would produce all manner of portraits in this period, therefore, and was particularly focused on the lives of the so-called ordinary, which would also fit well with his own socialist leanings. At this time artists were mainly to the left of centre, politically, and so he would have felt entirely comfortable in expressing his views with fellow artistic collaborators at around this time. Having said that, he was not overly aggressive or opinionated, and some have preferred to label him as a Humanist, rather than being particularly devoted to any particular political movement of that era. He would later join the Communist Party.
The artwork pictured in this page was a study for an artwork known as The Staircase and is likely to have been produced in either 1913 or 1914, as Leger released a number of drawings at around this time that are particularly similar in style, colour as well as the medium used. They are listed as gouache and charcoal on tan wove paper, with each stroke made by the artist being discernable from the rest of the artwork. We see only tones of black and white, with the brownish background then showing through in areas that have been left untouched. The forms and shading were loose, summarising the intentions of these pieces as studies that were meant to flesh out a later composition but without the need to be entirely finished. It is fascinating to see Leger producing the basic construction of his mechanically-themed artworks, seeing the raw elements of his ideas prior to the addition of the bright colour palette that appeared across all of his paintings at this time.
In studying this artist's drawings, we can also get a better understanding of his working processes, such as how much he might change his mind about the final painting whilst planning it. We can compare study drawings with the final compositions in order to get a good idea around this. Such was the complexity of his work, though, it was important for him to plan things fairly well prior to commencing the oil paintings, as alterations on a major level would be hard to achieve with so much detail being used across the canvas. This would contrast, say, with a landscape painter who can often tweak part of a scene fairly easily, so long as it does not impact too much on the rest of the composition - meaning that studies could be more free and less locked down in layout. They might even produce oil studies which were essentially just the first stage of a painting, where the broad brushstrokes lay out the approximate forms, in order to get a visual representation of one's own idea.
The artist would use his skills as a draughtsman, most of which were learnt in his early days as a student, to prepare his paintings carefully but rarely produced complex independent artworks using this medium for the early part of his career. He would expand his oeuvre significantly as he became more confident, taking on commissions in all manner of different disciplines as his reputation continued to spread. Book illustrations eventually became an interest of his, helping him to then move on from just drawings as studies, and he also helped out with theatre productions, consulting on costume and set design which provided him with a boost of energy and enthusiasm. He would even direct a film in collaboration with a number of other notable artists after becoming aware of the creative possibilities of this art form which was starting to grow in popularity and impact across his industry.