Léger fled France and arrived in the port of Hoboken, New Jersey on 12 November 1940, one of the first of many European artists to arrive in the United States at the outset of the Second World War. Remembered fondly from three visits during the preceding decade, Léger was soon featured in The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" section, which reported: "Léger, who is fifty-nine, seems much the same as on his past visits here--rugged, ruddy, gentle and full of curiosity" (quoted in C. Lanchner, "Fernand Léger, American Connections," Fernand Léger, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, pp. 52-53). During the years that he spent in America in the first half of the 1940s, he explained: "I can't complain about my stay here. I've been able to renew myself completely" (quoted in C. Lanchner, ibid., p. 57).
During his five year sojourn in America, Léger did not learn much English, choosing to pass most of his time with the large community of French exiles that lived in New York. While traveling to an exhibition of his work in Montreal in 1943, Léger discovered an abandoned farmhouse at Rouses Point, a small town in upstate New York near the Canadian border where residents commonly spoke French. Rouses Point, located in the Champlain Valley, reminded the artist of the Normandy countryside he was separated from and he proceeded to spend the next three summers there, where he found his interest in nature stimulated. Léger painted a series of works inspired by the surrounding landscape during these summers, particularly struck by skeletons of farm machinery abandoned in the fields. Léger commented, "I painted a series of American landscapes, inspired by the contrast between the abandoned machine that had turned into rusty metal, and the vegetation that was devouring it. Nature was literally eating up the machinery. You could see it disappearing under the wild flowers and greenery. The opposition between this heap of twisted metal and the wild daisies had a lively and endearing charm about it" (quoted in G. Neret, Fernand Léger, Paris, 1990, p. 210).
Léger's works from the 1940s are dominated by floating fields of color, a new development which would come to feature in many of his works, including the present painting, and be associated with his signature style from this point onwards. In Composition à la Marguerite, Léger has deliberately used the interlocking and interweaving forms to create a sense of pulsing movement and rhythm, that vibrates throughout the entire composition and which is given all the more fuel through the presence of the bold strips of red, blue and yellow. Of his work from this period, Léger said, "I dispersed my objects in space and kept them all together while at the same time making them radiate out from the surface of the picture. A tricky interplay of harmonies and rhythms made up of background and surface colors, guidelines, distances and oppositions" (quoted in W. Schmalenbach, Fernand Léger, New York, 1976, p. 32).
Composition à la Marguerite was purchased by Lucile Curlee, a successful interior designer, directly from Léger's show at the Valentine Gallery in New York in 1945 where she met the artist. The painting has not been displayed in public since that time.