Art: Fire!

As an unknown young painter in Paris, Fernand Léger made his living retouching photographs, but he grew heartily sick of the fuzzy grey pictures he had to pretty up. A stretcher-bearer in World War I, he found a sort of solace in looking at cannons, planes and tanks. The milder beauties of nature were not for him, he decided. What he wanted his paintings to rival was the harsh power and blank precision of modern machinery.

Using a minimum of tools, he succeeded. As Jean Cassou, curator of Paris' Musée d'Art Moderne put it, Léger became "the greatest primitive of our...

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