Léger visited The United States three times during the 1930s. He returned to Paris from his last American trip in 1939 only six months before the outbreak of the Second World War. His stays in America lasted a few months at a time, and he traveled as far west as Chicago, normally in connection with exhibitions (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gave him his first American retrospective in 1935) and always with the hope of attracting commissions from American patrons.
He was, consequently, less of a stranger to American culture than many of his fellow wartime refugees, and indeed he was among the first French artists to come to New York in the months following France's capitulation to the German invaders. He arrived in November 1940, first staying at the University Club on Fifth Avenue and thereafter in the Tudor Hotel on West 42nd Street. Soon after Léger arrived in New York, Arthur Neumeyer, director of the Mills College Art Gallery in Oakland, California, invited him to teach at the college during the summer semester of 1941. He was awestruck by the Far Western landscape and wrote to a friend: "One of the most beautiful memories of traveling will be my bus trip--Texas and Arizona. Monumental. It's as big as New York but part of nature. In an oven of heat, you would have screamed, yelled before an epic parade of giant cactus, rocks, sand, oil wells in perspective, and plants balancing like the sexes of horses and around that, violent odors that change every ten miles. And some big clouds rolling in the blue above." (quoted in C. Lanchner, "Fernand Léger: American Connections," Fernand Léger, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 53).
While at Mills College, Léger worked on studies for his projected series of Les plongeurs, an idea that he conceived in Europe just as he was departing for America and which would prove to be his most important subject during his wartime exile. For now, however, because he was living in a dormitory room and had no studio, he was able to do drawings only, which he added to a small exhibition of his work that had recently arrived in San Francisco from Chicago. After finishing his teaching engagement at Mills, Léger traveled around California, and returned via train from Carmel to New York in October 1941. Back in his studio, he began to paint once again.
Landscapes account for the largest number of the easel paintings that Léger executed in the United States apart from those related to Les plongeurs and the later series of Les cyclistes. The present painting is among the earliest landscapes that Léger painted in America. These well-known landscapes were executed at the artist's vacation cottage on Lake Champlain in upstate New York date from mid-1943 and thereafter. Related to the present painting is a smaller oil study titled Fleurs et fruits and dated 1941 (Bauquier, no. 1074; coll. The Tel Aviv Museum of Art). Inspired by his recent cross-country journeys, Léger probably painted this study shortly after his return to New York. He then commenced work on Paysage in late 1941, and completed it early in 1942. The imagery appears to derive from the artist's recollections of the abundant produce grown in the fertile, irrigated valleys of Southern California. The elongated blue and blue/white shapes refer to the growers' irrigation channels, and the swirling star-shaped series of dots at the upper center is a sprinkler. The brown and tan tonality of the background represents the color of California's hills and pastures during the dry summer and autumn months.