Two Sisters (1935) by Fernand Leger
Meaning of Neoclassicist Figure Painting

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Two Sisters
By Fernand Leger.
One of the artist's best known
20th century paintings in the
Neoclassical genre.

Two Sisters (1935)


Analysis of Two Sisters
Explanation of Other Modern Classicist Paintings


Name: Two Sisters (1935)
Artist: Fernand Leger (1881-1955)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Figure painting
Style: Classicism
Location: Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

For analysis of works
by Cubist painters like
Fernand Leger, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.


Fernand Leger ranks alongside Matisse (1869-1954), Georges Braque (1882-1963), Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), and Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), as one of the leading contributors to French painting during the early years of the 20th century. He made his name in abstract art during the 1910s, when he developed his own form of Cubism, known as "Tubism", as exemplified in works like Nudes in the Forest (1909-10, Kroller-Muller State Museum, Otterlo), Contrast of Forms (1913, Guggenheim Museum, New York), and Soldiers Playing at Cards (1917, Kroller-Muller State Museum, Otterlo). Invalided out of the war in 1917, he combined his feelings of camaraderie with his fellow man, with a strong faith in the power of 'the machine', an aesthetic illustrated by The Mechanic (National Gallery of Canada). Shortly afterwards he responded to the 'Call to Order' - the Classical Revival in modern art - with a series of figurative paintings including: Three Women (Le Grand Dejeuner) (1921, MOMA, New York); and Nudes against a Red Background (1923, Kunstmuseum, Basel). Two Sisters also belongs to the classicist tradition, although - as its organic forms indicate - it was painted in Leger's more relaxed style of the 1930s.

Analysis of Two Sisters by Fernand Leger

The formula Leger uses here is the same as that of Nudes against a Red Background (1923) - two powerfully modelled grey-coloured bodies, locked together by a shared contour, and silhouetted against a flat, coloured ground. But the mood is much more tender and more lyrical, and the effect much less hieratic and severe, than that of the earlier work. The differences are the result of Leger's rejection of the strictly frontal viewpoint, and his use of a free organic line which follows a rhythmic course obedient to natural laws - running ponderously over shoulders and thighs, faster over waving hair, and rapidly over fingers and toes. The flowering branch is emblematic: the girls are like nymphs of the meadows - comparable to the Three Nymphs (1930-38, Tate Collection, London) by Aristide Maillol - and their benign presence offers a message of peace and plenty. The yellow ground shines brilliantly, and against it the steely bodies take on the aspect of a vision.

The naturalism of the Two Sisters and other paintings of the early 1930s had developed gradually in Leger's modern art from 1927 onwards, when the organic forms of his earlier 'animated landscapes' began to enter his still lifes, and to vie for supremacy with the mechanistic, geometric objects upon which he had hitherto focused. The change was paralleled in the work of several of his friends, including Amedee Ozenfant (1886-1966) and Le Corbusier (1887-1965), both of whom renounced the strict formal limitations of Purist painting at the same period and turned to figurative subjects. The rigorous, almost puritanical, phase of the 'Call to Order' had passed.

Explanation of other Modern Classicist Paintings


Young Italian Woman Leaning on her Elbow (1900)
J Paul Getty Museum, LA.

The Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) (1894-1905) National Gallery, London; Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA.


Seated Woman (Picasso) (1920)
Musee Picasso, Paris.

Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) (1922) by Picasso
Musee Picasso, Paris.


The Drunken Gentleman (1916)
Private Collection.


Song of Love (1914)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914)
Private Collection.


• For the meaning of other classicist figure paintings, see: Homepage.

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