During the late 1930s Léger worked on two types of paintings. The first were primarily large figure paintings, such as Adam et Eve, and Composition aux deux perroquets, both of which were executed over a four-year span in 1935-1939 (Bauquier, nos. 880 and 881). While Léger radically compressed the space in these paintings, he employed modeling and sfumato effects to create the appearance of light falling on the figures, so that one perceives a semblance of depth. Léger sought to achieve classical, monumental and static qualities in these compositions that suited their mural-size dimensions. In the second group, which includes the present painting, Léger featured mainly still-life subjects, although he incorporated a figure into some of these compositions, as seen here. Instead of modeling the forms, Léger manipulated the basic relationships of color and form, which he strongly contrasted to create a dynamic pictorial space.
Léger rendered the forms in Nature morte au melon in a flat manner, and by juxtaposing contrastingly colored, straight and curvilinear shapes, he created a spiraling sense of motion, a "mobile" still-life. The central motif of the melon slice is the primary generative element in this composition. Léger amplified and repeated this shape, and played it against the rectilinear forms in the figure, the table-top and the wall partition at left, which serve to frame the movement within the interior of the picture. Léger employed the arching shape of the melon slice in numerous other compositions during this period, and later during his wartime exile in America (Bauquier, nos. 1002-1003 [dated 1938] and nos. 1149-1150 [dated 1943-1944]). He also related this motif to various curved floral and leaf forms (e.g., Bauquier, nos. 960-963), as well as to star-fish arms and even butterfly wings (Bauquier, nos. 967 and 968).
Léger continued to employ both modeled and flat forms in the paintings that he executed in America. He integrated these opposing tendencies in some of the Plongeurs compositions, for example, in Les plongeurs sur fond jaune, 1941 (Bauquier, no. 1084; coll. The Art Institute of Chicago). Nevertheless, he pushed increasingly towards flatness in his late wartime and postwar works, as he developed a large-scale, architectural sense of form. He visually altered the spatial appearance of the picture plane or wall by applying flat, floating bands of color, which were entirely disconnected from the outlines of the figures and objects. In his article "New Conception of Space," published in the Paris journal XXe Siècle in 1952, Léger wrote: "Separated objects which, depending on the color chosen for them, advance or recede on the canvas, and the background color as well, create a new space through movement, with no effect of perspective; the space, an imagined space, is born of rhythm. It is for the painter to vary rhythms and colors to obtain expression. Finally, a transparent space can be suggested by preserving distinct lines and colors" (reprinted in Functions of Painting, New York, 1973, pp. 181-182). These ideas, whose implications Léger began to explore in his easel paintings during the 1930s, such as the present work, bore final fruit in his great valedictory mural, La grande parade, état definitif, 1954 (coll. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York).