In 1912, Bonnard bought Ma Roulette, a villa overlooking the river Seine outside Vernonnet, a village located to the north west of Paris. This move marked a shift for this painter, who had gained renown for his Clichy street scenes and intimate interiors, as he began to devote more time to landscape painting. John Rewald writes of this opening up to nature as a process by which 'one feature almost completely disappeared from Bonnard's work: the underlying irony. Instead, a much rarer quality is found in his work, a quality achieved only by the great: serenity' (in J. Rewald, Pierre Bonnard, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1948, p. 50). Another factor informing this interest in landscape was the artist's growing friendship with one of the most important landscapists of the early twentieth century, Claude Monet, whose home in Giverny was only a short distance from Vernonnet. However, in contrast to Monet's love of his meticulous gardens and delight in the more orderly aspects of the landscape, Bonnard tended to focus on the more luxuriant aspect of the local countryside.
In Bord de rivière, deux femmes et un chien Bonnard creates a luminous environment through the use of simplified form and a bold, vibrant palette. He divides the composition into three horizontal bands of colour - a narrow strip of pale pink and flesh tones defines the pathway below a river of dark blues and greens, hues which are repeated with reversed emphasis in the luminous verdant overgrowth above. A sense of dynamism is injected by the movement of figures in the foreground on the path and in boats. Writing of his approach to colour, Bonnard stated, 'Colour alone will suffice to express all one wants to say - there is no need for highlighting and modeling in painting. It seemed possible for me to reproduce light, shape and character by the use of colour alone, without the help of any values' (quoted in A. Terrasse, 'Some thoughts on Pierre Bonnard', in exh. cat. Bonnard, Salzburg, 1991, n.p.).