In the last fifteen years of his life, Léger concentrated his artistic effort on large compositions, built up from cycles of works in which the same motif or form was employed in different contexts. The present work is one such variation from the cycle of La Grande Parade. Léger first experimented with the composition in a charcoal drawing of 1940 before creating the definitve version in oil in 1954, which is in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
The present gouache shows one stage in the painstaking process by which Léger developed the themes in La Grande Parade. He admitted "I study everything ponderously. I work very slowly indeed. I am unable to improvise. The more I watch myself, the more I see that I am a classic. I do a long preparatory work. First I do a quantity of drawings, then I do gouaches, and lastly I pass on to the canvas".
In another context he remarked "If I have drawn circus people, acrobats, clowns, jugglers, it is because I have taken an interest in their work for thirty years. Ever since I designed Cubist costumes for the Fratellini, I did a quantity of drawings and studies for La Grande Parade. For I am a classic: if my first drawings are off the cuff, I am aware of the media that I shall employ...The slightest transformation was long pondered and worked up with the help of new drawings. A local alteration often involved changing the entire composition because it affected the balance of the whole" (see W. Schmalenbach, Fernand Léger, New York, 1976, p. 166).
Gouaches from the Grande Parade series are held in several celebrated collections including the Musée National Fernand Léger, Biot, and the Collection Aimé Maeght, Paris.