Severini organized an exhibition of his war theme paintings at the Galerie Boutet de Monvel in January 1916. This was his last Futurist statement. The movement itself had largely broken up since Italy's entrance into the First World War in May 1915, as some artists now numbered among the conflict's casualties and others were having second thoughts about the group's initial clamor for intervention. Severini, his colleagues Carlò Carrà and Ardengo Soffici questioned the militant tenets of Futurism and came to see the need for a new humanism. By the beginning of the following year, Severini had significantly distanced himself from the Futurist preoccupation with simultaneity and movement, and turned instead to an interest in cubist structure, space and subject matter. These were concerns that existed within the rational and tangible limits of painting as a medium of formal expression, and avoided extraneous agendas and dogmatism. Of all the Futurists, Severini was the one in the closest contact with painters in Paris, where he had lived since 1906, and his friendly relations with Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris transcended the partisan rancor that had often divided the Italian and French avant-garde painters.
Severini spent several weeks at the beginning of the summer of 1917 in the town of Civray, in the Poitou region, and painted several landscapes in which the compositional elements were structured as if they were objects in a cubist still life painting. Each of the landscape forms was flattened into its own planar context; Severini nevertheless implied depth by maintaining a recognizable sense of distance in which planes appear one in front of the other. In the summer of 1918, the artist returned to the central regions of the country, this time in Le Châtelard in the Savoy. The present work, which shows a well beneath a large tree, was painted during this time, and shows far greater organizational complexity than the landscapes painted the year before. Severini now completely immersed himself in the practices of synthetic cubism as derived from the papiers collés of Picasso and Braque. The elements here are completely flat, like pasted wallpapers, each with its own patterning to signify whether it represents the foliage of the tree, surrounding grass, the gravel path, the stone well or the water within it.
The composition is complex, densely layered, and carefully proportioned. Severini wrote: "I thought that geometry and mathematics should be used more precisely, that artists should apply, and would benefit from, strictly observed laws of geometry and mathematics" (in The Life of a Painter, London, 1995, p. 210). He sought the unity of time and space with increasing balance and symmetry. These concerns had derived in part from Futurism, as well as from the pre-war cubists of the Section d'Or group, which included Gris, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger and the Duchamp/Villon brothers. It was nearly impossible to improvise such elaborate compositions directly on the canvas, and Severini usually made detailed drawings in preparation, which were ruled for transfer. Daniela Fonti illustrates the study for the present painting (op. cit., no. 333A).
The tendency towards a new rationalism and classicism in painting was a reaction to a world engulfed in the chaos and slaughter of a seemingly interminable war. Following the armistice in November 1918, there was the rappel à l'ordre ("call to order"), a phrase coined by Jean Cocteau, which became the rallying cry of a growing movement that aimed to reinstate traditional French values of order, balance and clarity in the arts. Severini had been deeply sympathetic to French cultural values since his arrival in Paris, and in 1913 he married the daughter of the French poet Paul Fort. Severini signed a contract with the dealer Léonce Rosenberg in 1919, and exhibited at his Galerie L'Effort Moderne. Rosenberg represented many of the artists in the vanguard of the new order, including Gris, Braque, Fernand Léger, Metzinger and Henri Laurens. While Severini partly suscribed to the collective ethos of this group, he continued to evolve his own ideas concerning mathematical order, in which he believed he had "glimpsed the path leading to the infinite, towards absolute purity, superhuman poetry and perfect harmony" (ibid.).