As Léger responded to the post-war rappel à l'ordre, the 'call to order' taken up by the Paris avant-garde, he turned away from the brashly dynamic, mechanical manner of his earlier work, and his paintings began to assume a calmer, more balanced and consciously classical appearance. He remained steadfast to his basic principle of seeking contrasts in forms, but he now pursued these ideas in a different context, in which harmony and order supplanted dissonance. Léger became increasingly interested in the value of tradition, and he now strove in his art for the permanence of the classical and humanistic ideals that informed the great and enduring art of the past. He was keen on making his own significant statement, a monumental art, in which he would unite the order of classicism with modern life.
Léger gave new emphasis to the idealisation of the human figure, especially the female nude. The great masterpiece of this period is Le grand déjeuner, 1921 (Bauquier, no. 311, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), in which three nude women lounge in a geometric interior surrounded by numerous still-life accessories. Léger gave his women smooth if rather full-bodied forms, which he derived from the voluptuous late nudes of Renoir and the odalisques of Ingres and Delacroix, and used their presence to contribute a leisurely, sensual dimension to his Purist interiors, creating new contrasts of form.
The male figure is virtually absent from Léger's domestic interiors during the first half of the 1920s, and appears only in a small number of fine and finished drawings, such as the present work. Léger did not turn these drawings into paintings, perhaps for the reason that the more firmly built and athletic masculine figure offered fewer contrasts with the typical hardness of Léger's architectural environmnent. In the present drawing, and a related coloured drawing of a male model in his studio, Figure, 1924 (J. Cassou and J. Leymarie, Fernand Léger, Drawings and Gouaches, London, 1973, no. 103, p. 80), Léger counterposed the male figure with a similarly shaped still-life object set on a table. In the present drawing the broad shape of the vase resembles that of the nude man's torso. While Léger did not pursue this interesting theme of correspondences of form on a large canvas, he featured men in several city exterior scenes, such as L'homme au chandail, 1924 (B., no. 389, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem). He may have regarded the outdoors as a more suitable environment for the male figure, as he demonstrated in his earlier rural paysages animés.
Cassou and Leymarie briefly mention a connection 'à la Vermeer' in their discussion of Léger's domestic themes (ibid., p. 48). Indeed, Léger may have derived the idea of juxtaposing the male figure with a single still-life object from Vermeer's The Astronomer (fig. 1), which the Louvre had removed from wartime storage and placed on view when it reopened its main picture galleries in 1920. In Vermeer's painting a man is seen contemplating a globe bearing the constellations. Léger's interest in The Astronomer is even more apparent in the aforementioned L'homme au chandail, in which the man in a sweater regards a mysterious red disc. Both Léger and Vermeer place their subjects against a background of horizontal and vertical architectural elements. Léger relished the idea of modernising the traditions of the old masters, here by making a hard-edged, glaringly lit modern composition out of the softer forms, suffused in a subtle light, that are characteristic of Vermeer's paintings. The contrast of man with the objects of his making, and the power of his presence within the stillness of the interior, nevertheless resonate in the interiors of both painters, created nearly two-and-a-half centuries apart.