In the early 1890s O’Conor painted many Breton landscapes that included distant views of traditional farmhouses. However, village scenes such as the present one are comparatively rare in his oeuvre. As a resident of more than one international artists’ colony, the Irishman always tended to gravitate towards the fringes of his chosen places of work, affording more genuinely rural views and fewer interruptions whilst painting en plein air. The examples set by Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard may, however, have inspired him to look again at the vernacular buildings that surrounded him, in some of which he had chosen at times to take board and lodging. The precise location of Maison Rouges à Pont-Aven is not known, however the way the houses seem to blend effortlessly into the landscape with their sagging eaves and stubby chimneys is typical of the locale. O’Conor’s eye has been drawn in particular to the roofs rising in parallel up the hillside, a feature he studied in at least one other painting, Roof tops, a village, which shares the same vertical format and a similar palette of orange, russet, blue and green.
The lively brushwork of Maisons Rouges à Pont-Aven, with its scumblings and undisguised calligraphic movements, suggests that it was executed outdoors, most probably in one or two sittings. The entire picture surface, including the sky and the foliage, is energised as a result, the better to convey the extreme heat of what was most probably a midday sun. O’Conor has deliberately exaggerated local colour to create his canvas, inspired no doubt by the paintings of Gauguin that he brought back from Tahiti in 1893, as well as the landscapes such as David’s Mill at Pont-Aven that the French artist painted during the summer months of 1894 when he and O’Conor were together.
Gauguin had just spent two months recovering from the broken ankle he sustained in a fight with local sailors at the fishing port of Concarneau – a fight in which O’Conor had also participated – and once recovered, the latter had lent him his studio at the nearby manor of Lezaven. Gauguin’s painting of David’s Mill could well have been one of the works executed in that very studio, observed perhaps by O’Conor given that the building could easily accommodate two artists. The predominance of orange in Gauguin’s palette and the way the landscape rises steeply around and above the buildings, pushing the sky to the very top of the picture, are features shared with O’Conor’s Maisons Rouges à Pont-Aven. However, O’Conor shuns the firm outlines and flat colours that remained typical of Gauguin’s synthetist approach, preferring instead to remain faithful to the more painterly and expressive handling that typified his Breton work of 1892-93. The differences between the two artists show that, despite 'Gauguin’s strength of character and convincing style of talk' making 'a deep impression on the young, or youngish Irishman', as Clive Bell recounted, O’Conor did not abandon his principles. Indeed there are even vestiges of his Van Gogh-inspired ‘striping’ method in the sky and the rooftops of Maisons Rouges à Pont-Aven.