After a period of working with purely abstract imagery, Léger returned to the use of realistic subjects for his paintings in the 1940s and 1950s. He did not view this change as a rejection of the aims of abstraction, however, but rather as a way of continuing to pursue the aims of pure painting with a new vocabulary. Léger wrote in 1950: "New subjects, envisaged with the contribution of the freedoms that previous experimentation has offered, must emerge and establish themselves.” The goals were still the same, according to Léger, whether the image included objects from the everyday world or was completely abstract. “The plastic life, the picture, is made up of harmonious relationships among volumes, lines, and colors. These are the three forces that must govern works of art. If, in organizing these three essential elements harmoniously, one finds that objects, elements of reality, can enter into the composition, it may be better and may give the work more richness. But they must be subordinated to the three essential elements mentioned above” (quoted in Fernand Léger, (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998, p. 247).
La Table dans le jardin is a bold example of this approach to painting described in 1950. This deceptively simple composition is actually a complex combination of the organic forms of the flowers and leaves set against the vertical stripes of the background, and the still life on the table at the center. Léger also combines three-dimensional forms such as the lantern on the table with the more abstract planes of color that serve as both background and foreground. Rather than a depiction of simple objects, La Table dans le Jardin is in fact a composition of, in Léger’s words, “harmonious relationships among volumes, lines and colors” (ibid.).
Georges Bauquier, author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, viewed this work and expressed his intention of including it in the ninth volume which he was unable to finish before his death in 1997.