leger, the syphon, 1924


Fernand Leger used a mechanical approach at the beginning of the Purist movement that focused on city landscapes and machine-like figures. As he began to be recognized with the Purist artists such as Le Corbusier and Amedee Ozenfant, he began to show more detail and precision with modern objects in his artwork as shown in The Siphon. The painting shows a hand using a siphon to pour a clear drink into a glass with random objects and designs in the background. The up close image without a persons entire body allows for this painting to not show any expressions. There is no definite object or subject that stands out except the siphon pouring the water. The Siphon relates to Le Corbusier and Ozenfant because of its simplicity, close up approach, and detailed objects.

The siphon is the most obvious object in the painting that is being used to pour water by a mysterious hand. The use of this siphon shows Leger’s shift towards basic and simplistic objects after the First World War. The background and the other objects in the painting are very simple and do not have any characteristics that stand out. The pourer of the siphon has very clean fingers and a nice suit that gives the painting a wealthy and classic feel to the work. The glass and siphon have column shapes and designs to add to the classic look. The table and other objects are look modern because they do not have any unique designs.  The shapes used for the background have many different rectangles and basic colors.

Leger uses black, brown, light brown, and white as his main colors for the background. The glass and siphon are in blue and green which helps the two objects stand out more than the random objects lying on the table. Using these different colors allows for the glasses to stand out but not take away from the entire painting. The Siphon could be considered one of Leger’s most related paintings to Ozenfant’s well-known bottle paintings during the Purist period because of the colors used, classic look, and great detail of the glasses.

The close focus of the painting allows the viewers to focus on the Siphon and the random objects lying on the table. From a balanced standpoint everything is even, the table shifts the eyes to the bottom left, however the slanted hand focuses everything back to the center by being in the top right. Purists believed in having mathematical order in their works. Leger seems to use the golden ratio in this painting because nothing stands or appears in the background on the left and right sides. Everything in the background has a vertical appearance which is occurring in many of Leger’s Purist paintings such as The City, Blue Guitar and Vase, and The Mechanic. His backgrounds tend to not be too distracting and follow a vertical or horizontal pattern. The use of shading is very defined in the hand and the objects on the table. The theme of this work does not communicate a story of expression due to its close-up image however the only identifiable story is someone pouring water into a glass.

Fernand Leger had his own style of Purism by using a mixture of traditional and classical ideas and using close up images to not allow for any emotion to be seen. It is important to note that Leger’s goal in The Siphon was to not have a main subject or a story to tell. He put two glasses in the middle with different colors and a consistent vertical background with a bland color palette. The subject of the painting is a wealthy man pouring water into a glass. Leger used great detail and shading to add a realistic finish to The Siphon that was based on an advertisement for an alcoholic aperitif known as Campari. Another note to Leger’s Purist movement is that he did not make anything in a robot or tubular form like The City. Leger was very detailed in his Purist works, and decided to create a painting that expressed no emotion in the painting The Siphon.


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