The responses of many neurons in primary visual cortex are modulated by stimuli outside the classical receptive field in ways that may contribute to integrative processes like scene segmentation. To explore this issue, single-unit neuronal responses were recorded in monkey cortical areas V1 and V2 to visual stimuli containing either a figure or a background pattern over the receptive field. Figures were defined either by orientation contrast or by illusory contours. In all conditions, the stimulation over the RF and its nearby surround was identical. Both figure types enhanced the average population response in V1 and V2. For orientation contrast figures, enhancement averaged 50% in V2 and 30% in V1; for illusory contour figures, the enhancement averaged 24% in V2 and 18% in V1. These differences were statistically significant for figure type but not for visual area. In V2, the latency of enhancement to illusory contour-defined figures was longer than that to orientation-defined figures. Neuronal responses were recorded while the monkey performed a directed-attention task. Enhancement to both figure types was observed even when attention was directed away from the figure. Attention slightly enhanced responses in V2, independent of figure type, but did not affect responses in V1. There was no discernible effect of attention on background firing rate in either V1 or V2. These results suggest that scene segmentation is a distributed process, in which neuronal signals at successive stages of the visual hierarchy and over time increasingly reflect the global structure of the image. This process occurs independent of directed visual attention.