During the mid 1940s to 1950s, Léger began to rethink his approach to the human figure. He stated that "total abstraction was exhausted and that 'new subjects' had to be found." (quoted in C. Lanchner, Fernand Léger, New York, 1998, p. 247). This shift in focus was based upon his desire to create art that people would find easy to comprehend.
Léger stated, "We are witnessing a return to the broad subject, which must be comprehensible to the people. The people tied down, bent over their work all day long, without leisure activities, are completely overlooked by the bourgeois epoch; that is the tragedy of today." (in "Mural and Easel Painting," Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, p. 161.) By addressing the everyday issues of the working class, Léger hoped his work would be easily understood by all.
Traveling through postwar France, in the late 1940s Léger found his "new subject," which he first addressed in his series Les Constructeurs. He stated that:
It was going to Chevreuse that the idea first came to me. Three pylons for high tension cables were being built along the road. Men perched on them, working. I was struck by the contrast between them, the metallic architecture which surrounds them and the clouds above...I wanted to render this in my paintings without making any concessions. I evaluated the human factor, the sky, the clouds and the metal in the most exact terms. If I have stressed the figures of my workers more, if they are depicted with greater individualization, it is because of the violent contrast between them and the metallic geometry surrounding them is of maximum intensity...Modern Life consists of daily contrasts (quoted
in P. de Francia, Fernand Léger, New Haven, 1983, p. 199).
L'équipe au repos continues this theme of the contrast of modern life. The composition is carefully crafted in four stages: the human group which rests at the front of the picture plane, the metal pylons, the sky and finally the clouds. The three figures do not exude emotion; rather, they function as an easily recognizable group: workers enjoying a moment of rest from their labor. They appear unengaged with their surroundings as they stretch horizontally across the painting, in sharp contrast to the thin dark vertical lines of the pylons, which extend toward the sky. The disparity between the human and metallic elements is echoed by Léger's brilliant use of color. The manmade structures stand out against the fiery orange sky which in turn forms a contrast to the blue in the workers outfits. By reducing the human forms and the landscape to their essentials, Léger composed a composition that is easy to read and appropriate to post war France and the age of modernization.