In August of 1910, Marc Chagall boarded a train from St. Petersburg for a four-day journey that brought him to Paris. His move had been inspired by the earlier departures of his friends and fellow artists Leon Bakst and Victor Mekler, and it was made financially possible through a stipend provided by his patron Max Vinaver, which allowed him to stay in Paris for the next four years. It was the first time that Chagall travelled outside of Russia, and the stimulating environment of the city made a marked impression on his work. He became a fixture at the Friday night gatherings that took place at the home of Ricciotto Canudo, who was the editor of Montjoie, an avant-garde periodical. It was at these meetings that Chagall befriended Robert Delaunay, Albert Gleizes, Roger de la Fresnaye, Fernand Léger, Jean Metzinger and Louis Marcoussis, who were exploring a cubist approach in their painting. Chagall borrowed from the Cubists the geometrical division of space and figure, which he then applied with a freer manner to create his own personal style. This period was a fertile time of experimentation for Chagall. Franz Meyer groups the paintings of this period into categories in which he distinguishes the artist's Russian motifs as being expressed in angular, fauvist or painterly styles, with Le Soldat being an example of the latter.
Painted in 1911, Le soldat represents a fusion of his earlier interest in folkloric subject matter and Russian icons with a new type of stylistic innovation. In it he intermixes the figures, village, landscape and sky with ornamental pattern that he outlines with bold black lines. According to Franz Meyer: "For Chagall the contemporary constructive style derived from Cézanne was a field of force which he grew into and whose impact was already visible in the last works he did in Russia, but whose full significance was revealed now, a few months after his arrival in Paris...The themes derive from Chagall's recollections of rural Lyozno or the outskirts of Vitebsk, where the timber houses of the town merge into the flat countryside and lower-middle-class Jews and peasants meet. People lounge in front of the steep-roofed houses built of logs and planks; a peasant girl flirts with a soldier" (op. cit., pp. 111-112). The figure of the soldier is repeated in other works from this same period. Meyer records two gouaches, Soldier and Peasant Girl (1911; Meyer no. 121), and Study for The Soldier Drinks (1911; Meyer classified catalogue, no. 109). There also exist two larger oil paintings, Soldiers (1912; Meyer no. 188) and The Soldier Drinks (1912; Meyer, no. 184, coll. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York), as well as a pen and ink drawing, Wounded Soldier (1914; Meyer no. 242).