Picabia painted La Source (The Spring) after taking a long road trip with two friends, the composer Claude Debussy and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, in the summer of 1912. On the way home, as the conversation among the three men turned to the possibilities of nonfigurative art, Picabia had demanded of his more skeptical companions, "Are blue and red unintelligible? Are not the circle and the triangle, volumes and colors, as intelligible as this table?" He began work on La Source soon afterward and showed it that October at an important annual exhibition in Paris, the Salon d’Automne. Also including abstract works by Frantiek Kupka and Fernand Leger, that year’s edition of the Salon marked the public debut of abstraction in the city.
La Source invokes the painting of Pablo Picasso in both its Rose Period palette and its fragmented planes, yet its large scale, crude paint handling, and erotic undertones, along with its defiant breach of the figurative tradition, also suggest a parody of Cubism's refinement. Upon seeing La Source, a critic wrote that Picabia had "set the year's record for fantasy" with "ugly" works that "evoke incrusted linoleum."