Cover image for Machine Modernism, Masculinity, and the Trauma of War: The Art of Fernand Léger By Maureen G. Shanahan

Machine Modernism, Masculinity, and the Trauma of War

The Art of Fernand Léger

Maureen G. Shanahan

Coming in May

$104.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09685-8
Coming in May

264 pages
8" × 9.5"
20 color/60 b&w illustrations
2024

Refiguring Modernism

Machine Modernism, Masculinity, and the Trauma of War

The Art of Fernand Léger

Maureen G. Shanahan

“Maureen Shanahan’s compelling study examines a fundamental but understudied dimension of the art of Fernand Léger, a First World War veteran widely celebrated as the most optimistic progenitor of machine aesthetics in Europe. Léger’s oeuvre is skillfully reevaluated in light of his experience of wartime trauma and the broader fear of emasculation that haunted French society throughout his lifetime. The book makes an important contribution to Cubism studies and to the history of French culture.”

 

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Long considered the embodiment of national resilience and fraternal loyalty in the wake of World War I, Fernand Léger’s art overshadows a far less heroic story, one that prompts a demythification of his legendary identification with the working class and provokes important questions about psychic trauma. This book draws on Léger’s wartime letters to reassess his work and present an entirely new perspective on how the artist’s war experience informed his art.

Maureen G. Shanahan traces the legacy of war and historical trauma in Léger’s work and uses the crisis of masculinity generated by World War I to explain the contradictions and paradoxes of his art and writing during and after the war. Drawing upon psychoanalytic and gender theory as well as memory studies, Shanahan historicizes the work of Léger and the Purist art movement within the psychiatric discourse of the era and anxieties about neurasthenia, which was associated with German Expressionism, Dada, and New Objectivity artists. Notably, Shanahan dismantles Léger’s machine aesthetic as a utopian and regenerative investment and explores the significance of Léger’s collectives of soldiers, female nudes, mass-produced objects, divers, and cyclists—his “machine men”—as vehicles for displacing trauma and disavowing loss.

Informed by extensive archival research, this volume turns Léger into a case study of Cubism’s most radical moment, machine modernism’s relationship to war trauma, and aesthetic positions between Socialist Realism and geometric abstraction.

“Maureen Shanahan’s compelling study examines a fundamental but understudied dimension of the art of Fernand Léger, a First World War veteran widely celebrated as the most optimistic progenitor of machine aesthetics in Europe. Léger’s oeuvre is skillfully reevaluated in light of his experience of wartime trauma and the broader fear of emasculation that haunted French society throughout his lifetime. The book makes an important contribution to Cubism studies and to the history of French culture.”

Maureen G. Shanahan is Professor of Art History at James Madison University. She has published some twenty articles on gender, trauma, Léger, and other modernist themes. She is coeditor of Simón Bolívar: Travels and Transformations of a Cultural Icon.

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