Le Premier Homme was inspired by Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who became the first person to travel to outer space on April 12, 1961. Indiana explained his decision to use a French title for the painting in a 1963 interview with the collector Richard Brown Baker, noting “I suppose subconsciously in order not to make it too sympathetic to the Communist propaganda, I decided to call the painting by its French title. And it came directly from the cover of a French magazine, and I liked the phrase.” The magazine was the April 22, 1961, issue of Paris Match, which included a cover story on Gagarin. Indiana borrowed both the painting’s title and color scheme from the magazine’s cover.
In 1969 Indiana returned to the theme of space travel with the painting Der Mond – Die Braunschaft, which was inspired by the Apollo 11 spaceflight that first landed humans on the moon.