Leger’s work is very odd. This piece, a kind of a breakthrough for him, is really
bizarre. While contemplating the craziness of this work, I find in the MOMA Invention of Abstraction catalog two large cubist Picabias I had never heard of, but if I look back in the literature I see they are not completely unknown, just not much noticed. Clearly very important works. The one that attracts my attention is called Dances at the Spring, and
another, less fragmented piece with the same title in Philadelphia proves that it means dancers at a spring, in other words, female nudes outdoors in nature. It’s very hard to see the figures, but they are there. Roberto Calasso said some interesting things about water and the imagination, and about the nymphs – female nature spirits – as personifications of a creative force. When Titian or Veronese painted nymphs they were women with the common attractiveness of their period, and so were those of Courbet and Renoir, but starting with Cézanne (the large female bathers) they become grotesque and cubism took that even further. Picabia’s are Naiads, or water nymphs, Leger’s are Dryads, or wood nymphs, also tree spirits. They are certainly drier, no pun intended. Important is to realize that though they may be grotesque in appearance, their erotic energy is independent of that. I think the moderns make a more accurate, more realist picture of these beings than the old masters did.