In 1951, Fernand Léger designed seventeen monumental stained glass windows (vitrail, in French), depicting the instruments of Christ’s passion, for the new Eglise du Sacré Coeur in Audincourt, France.

In 1955, Léger used the design for one of these windows, Pincers and Nails, as the pattern for Vitrail, a textile produced by Fuller Fabrics.

Léger was one of five world-renowned artists commissioned by the American manufacturer to create designs for its “Modern Masters Series.” The others were Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, and Raoul Dufy. Dan Fuller, Fuller’s President, visited each artist to select the works that would provide source motifs for the textile patterns. This collaboration between art and industry resulted in a brilliant collection of sixty designs, which were celebrated in Life Magazine and exhibited at major American museums.

Léger’s design for Pincers and Nails is faithfully reproduced in miniature, in a straight repeat pattern, for Fuller’s Vitrail yardage. Léger’s Catholic church windows, which have been described as dramatic, deeply moving, and mystical, seem an unlikely design source for Fuller’s fabric. This was not haute couture – the Modern Master Series was mass-produced and sold at modest prices primarily for use in leisurewear. One garment manufacturer used Vitrail for bathing suits, in a “drip n’dry” cotton and a colorway of deep pinks.

But Léger was not a religious man. His goal in designing the Audincourt church windows was to create something that was objectively beautiful, not “sentimental.” His choice of the Pincers and Nails motif for the Modern Masters Series perhaps only underscores the intent of his original window design to “produce a pattern of forms and colors that was relevant to all, believers and non-believers alike.” [1]

Today is Fernand Léger’s birthday.

[1] Fernand Léger quoted in Andre Verdet, Léger (London: Hamlyn, 1970), 38.


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