With its collections of ancient, modern and contemporary art, the Musée de Grenoble offers you a chance to traverse the history of western painting from the 13th to the 20th centuries. Included are major masterpieces of classical Flemish, Dutch, Italian and Spanish painting; one of 20th century Europe’s richest collections; and all the great post-1945 contemporary art trends, right up to the most recent artworks of the 2000s.
Fernand Léger has a unique place in 20th century art, exalting the industrial civilization, the world of machines, and of workers, as much as the world of the modern city. Likened to the great Cubists of the early years of the century, he stands apart mainly through his depiction of a narrative subject, the way he upheld the third dimension, and the importance he attached to colour.
The Tugboat belongs to a series where the closest version is held in the Musée national d’art modern in Paris. Fernand Léger sought to establish visual equivalents with the syncopated rhythm of engines, the smoke of ships, industrial architecture and landscape. The geometric figures of the boat, the cylindrical silhouettes of the figures, the dog and the tree, and the round forms which conjure up the tugboat’s smoke are all overlaid and dovetailed with each other in a welter of contrasting and colourful planes which depict the energy of the machine and the activity of modern life. These different visual elements are joined together without any hierarchy disturbing the construction of a great stability. The composition, bequeathed by the contrasts of forms worked out in 1913, is based on the horizontal and the vertical. Squares contrast with circles, solids with voids, flat and geometric forms with the “tubular” reliefs, colours with non-colours, and black with white. This fragmented and colourful vision of the world, subject to a dislocation put back together again in accordance with its own laws, is meant to symbolize modernity and technical progress.
© Musée de Grenoble