The present work belongs to a series of three paintings which Léger painted in 1920 entitled L'Homme à la Pipe (B.200, 201 and 202). The second version is housed in the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (illustrated).
"During the decade that began in 1918, Léger produced some of his most important and advanced works. At that time, his style, more than that of any other French artist of the period, came close to employing the new international visual language, known in Paris as Purism...Léger's incorporation of the human figure into the compositions during the years dating from 1919 to 1921 differs significantly from the radical departure of Abstract Composition, 1919 and returns to the example provided by The Typographer (1917-18). The human figure is viewed as harmonious and integral, even subdued, in its surroundings and not in any way out of place...Léger was also able to convey this harmony in his observation of the new urban landscape" (R. Buck, exh.cat., Fernand Léger, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1982, p. 33).
In a discussion of the L'Homme à la Pipe series, and of the Paris version specifically, Christopher Green has commented "The nature of Léger's next move is most clearly seen in a series of paintings whose subject was the old simultanist concern, man in the city...Here the robot man is...a single co-ordinated structure of head, torso and limbs - a clear figurative statement contained within a stable and equally clear synthetic architecture of flat planes. Stability is ensured by the dominance of vertical and horizontal, and a certain austere strength is achieved by means of the broad, alternating bars of black and white. Yet, for all its stable clarity of statement, violent pictorial conflict remains central to L'Homme à la Pipe. The metallic solidity of Léger's man and dog strikes so hard against the flatness of their setting because of the clarity with which they are separated from it; thus, although the distinctly classical qualities of clarity and stability controlled by a strengthened sense of pictorial discipline have here come so much to the fore, Léger remains a painter concerned with conflict - with dissonance rather than with harmony" (C. Green, Léger and the Avant-Garde, New Haven and London, 1976, p. 197).
L'Homme à la Pipe was originally handled by Léonce Rosenberg, one of the foremost patrons of the Parisian Avant-Garde, whose Galerie de l'Effort Moderne arranged pivotal exhibitions by Léger, Picasso, Gris and Severini. On 1 July 1918 Léger signed a contract with Rosenberg establishing him as his dealer. Léger had his first post-war exhibition at Galerie de l'Effort Moderne in February 1919. Other paintings of 1920 which passed through Rosenberg's hands include Les Trois Camarades (B.214), now in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Élément Mécanique (B.240), now in the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo and Les Deux Femmes et la Nature Morte (B.246), now in the Kunstmuseum, Winterhur.