Bonnard painted the present landscape at Le Cannet, a small village in the south of France near Cannes. The artist had been captivated by the intense light and saturated colors of the Côte d'Azur--so different from northern Europe--ever since the summer of 1909, which he spent at Saint-Tropez. He described this journey as "the revelation of a Thousand and One Nights" and recalled "the sea, the yellow walls, the reflections as full of color as the light" (quoted in N. Watkins, Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 119). For the next three decades, Bonnard divided his time between the north and south, spending the summer months at Vernonnet near Paris and the winters at Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Le Cannet, and Antibes. Nicholas Watkins has written, "For a realist from the north like Bonnard, southern light was a prerequisite for his emerging art of color" (ibid., p. 124). In 1926, the year after he painted the present canvas, Bonnard bought a house ("Le Bosquet") at Le Cannet, which became his permanent base in the south. By the end of his working days, his life and art had become completely intertwined there. He wrote to Matisse in 1941, "As for moving into a palatial hotel for a little material comfort, I would lose the basis of my existence, the constant contact with nature, my way of working" (quoted in Bonnard at Le Bosquet, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1994, p. 40).
Bonnard was captivated by the landscape around Le Cannet and depicted it in more than two hundred canvases in the latter decades of his career. During his daily strolls in the countryside, he made sketches of the terrain, often annotated with notes of weather conditions and lighting effects, which served as the point of departure for his paintings. In 1940, Bonnard reported to Vuillard, "I am very much interested in landscape, and my strolls are full of considerations in this regard. I am about to understand this land and no longer try to find what isn't there, since it conceals tremendous beauties. To establish the different conceptions to which nature gives birth from this perspective, that is what really interests me" (quoted in Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature, exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2003, p. 62). Watkins has described the process by which Bonnard mediated and transposed these observations of the landscape back in his studio: "Paintings begun in the memory of a visual experience encapsulated in a drawing were transformed through color into a rich, immensely varied surface made up of a tapestry of brushstrokes, glazes, scumbles, impasto, and highlights of pentimenti" (op. cit., p. 171).
The present painting represents a scene that Bonnard could easily have glimpsed on one of his morning walks. It depicts a narrow alleyway in the village of Le Cannet, with a pair of small children playing in the foreground and a low parapet wall at the rear. The alley opens onto a vista of white-washed houses and tangled green foliage on a gently sloping hillside. The sun enters the picture from the left, bathing one wall of the central house in clear yellow light and casting the adjacent wall into deep, dappled shadow. The inclusion of the alley as a framing device recalls Bonnard's frequent use of an open window or door to structure his landscape compositions (see Dauberville, no. 1232; sold, Christie's, New York, 7 November 1995, Lot 32). Watkins has concluded, "A window proved an infinitely flexible device. Like a painting, it acts both as an opening and a barrier, a three-dimensional view and an object in its own right. By distancing life from function, allowing the world to be viewed aesthetically, the window itself became a sign of the contemplative process of painting, and its ramifications went back to the very roots of Bonnard's ambitions as an artist; for it enabled him to reconcile the perceptual experience of nature with the decorative surface" (ibid., pp. 171-172).