Fernand Léger temporarily abandoned representational depiction in his Contrast of Forms series of 1913–14, begun a few months after he completed Nude Model in the Studio (Collection Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York). When he returned from the front in 1917 and resumed painting, he reintroduced recognizable imagery in his work. Responsive to the technological advances and assertive advertising that followed World War I, he embarked on his “mechanical” period with works such as Men in the City and the related The City of 1919–29 (Collection Philadelphia Museum of Art).
In the urban themes of this period the human figure becomes as de-individualized and mechanized as the environment it occupies. Léger is able to express the rhythmic energy of contemporary life by finding its pictorial equivalent. Form, color, and shape are considered primarily for their plastic values and are given equal emphasis. They confront one another in a multitude of relations, creating single images that capture simultaneous sensations. Confusion of parts does not result, because Léger distributes planes evenly and builds his compositions with blocky areas of flat, easily read, unmixed color and clear and incisive outline. He conveys a sense of depth through overlapping planes and changes in scale rather than with modeling. Léger’s simple, varied, and clear pictorial elements, like ideal machines, efficiently produce effects of maximum power.