Fernand Leger's Les Constructeurs, one of his most famous compositions, will highlight a stunning selection of impressionist and modern art on November 22 in New York.
Christie's is offering the work as one of the top lots of the sale, joined by Edouard Manet's Les Printemps - one of the crowning works of the impressionist movement, which is expected to set an artist record.
Les Constructeurs is valued at $16m-22m. The record for a Leger painting at auction is held by Study for the Woman in Blue, which made $39.2m at Sotheby's in 2008.
Painted in 1950, this is an early example of Les Constructeurs, which came before Leger created the imposing 10-foot tall canvas that he would designate the "etat definitif" later that year. It represents the upper portion of the final composition.
A larger version of this composition was created as the final work in the series, with Leger expanding its size by 50% and keeping it for himself. It was shown alongside the etat definitif in his posthumous 1963 exhibition in Moscow.
The piece was then donated to the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts by his wife, Nadia. The etat definitif is now housed in the National Museum Fernand Leger in Biot, France.
Léger explained his motives when creating the piece shortly before the exhibition: "A factory was under construction in the fields there. I saw the men swaying high up on the steel girders! I saw man like a flea; he seemed lost in the inventions with the sky above him.
"I wanted to render that; the contrast between man and his inventions, between the worker and all the metal architecture, that hardness, that ironwork, those bolts and rivets."
The market for Leger's work has been gaining momentum in recent years, with many of his works now breaking $10m at auction. His art is prized for its personal interpretation of cubism, with his simplification of modern subject matter considered a precursor to pop art.
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