Painted in 1938, Composition I is is a colourful and whimsical work filled with abstract shapes, large blocks of colour, interlocking forms and amorphous masses, whose combination results in a musicality and rhythm which displays Léger's preoccupation with the perfect harmony of colour and form. Although Léger was never affiliated with the Surrealists, he had contact and indeed friendships with many of the movement's members. It was through their indirect influence that Léger's art during the 1930s had begun to show an increasing disregard for 'reality'. The Rappel à l'ordre that had followed the chaos of the First World War had marked his work for a long time, and had brought him to see the machine as the salvation of the modern world, as the ultimate vision of the future. However, by 1938, when Composition I was executed, this call to order had long since ceased to influence his painting.
Léger reacted to this change in different ways, on the one hand creating works that showed everyday scenes in his trademark fashion and on the other beginning to explore with a new sense of freedom ideas of form, colour and, more importantly, of dynamism. While the first group of works were meant to be understood by everyone, not merely critics, connoisseurs and intellectuals, Composition I belongs to a second and expanding group of works that Léger was executing with the 'educated' viewer in mind. Composition I, with its exuberant explosion of planes, lines and forms, is a work packed with rhythm and energy whose dynamism displays an ongoing process of experimentation and discovery by an artist who had always been preoccupied with movement.