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LÉGER’S ACADÉMIE MODERNE: Art in the Service of Society

The First World War in 1914–18 caused a temporary interruption in the contact between the Nordic countries and the Continent, however, soon after the war ended Nordic artists began travelling to Paris again. Gösta Adrian-Nilsson (GAN) arrived in Paris in 1920 and introduced the Nordic artists to Fernand Léger who had established his Académie Moderne in Montparnasse. In contrast to Matisse’s academy, Léger’s school and teaching methods were not characterised by the “at arm’s length” concept. For Léger, the academy functioned as a workshop where his eclecticism implied the freedom to try out the various modes of expression of Modernism. Danish artist Franciska Clausen was stylistically close to Léger’s cult of the machine and executed several of his paintings. Norwegian artists Ragnhild Keyser and Charlotte Wankel were also aligned with Léger’s art. Erik Olson and Waldemar Lorentzon from Sweden experimented in a range of different areas. Danish artist Rita Kernn-Larsen studied under Léger in 1930–31, however, her interest in Surrealism created a distance between them.

Despite his openness to a diversity of artistic expressions, Léger was a dogmatic pedagogue with ideological overtones. He rejected art as a bourgeois consumer object and wanted art to be a social force that benefitted the citizens. In this social mission, he collaborated with Le Corbusier to integrate art and architecture in public space. This interdisciplinary activity interested Finnish student Maire Gullichsen (née Ahlström) who introduced Alvar Aalto to  Léger’s ideas. Both were important in introducing Modernism in Finland.

Otto G. Carlsund enrolled at Léger’s academy in 1924 and became the foremost Swede to incorporate Léger’s theories in his work. In conjunction with the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition, he created the mural painting Rapid for the restaurant Lilla Paris and organised an exhibition of post-cubist art at the restaurant Puck to which he invited many artists of the Parisian avant-garde, including Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Jean Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Franciska Clausen.