Painted in 1916, Coup de soleil shows the view from the house that Pierre Bonnard bought in the Seine valley in 1912. The house, which Bonnard nicknamed 'Ma roulotte'-- my caravan, would become one of his greatest 'Muses,' affording rambling views into the distance that gave him every opportunity to explore the tiny variations in colour and light to which he was so uniquely sensible and which informed the greatest of his paintings.
Bonnard's gardens at Vernonnet, which fill so much of the foreground of Coup de soleil, were hardly tamed and deliberately rambling. He even referred to them as his 'jardin sauvage,' as in the title of his celebrated canvas (also known as La grande terrasse) showing another similar view and now in the Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. This was in stark contrast to the meticulously planned and manicured gardens of his near neighbour, friend and fellow artist Claude Monet, across the river at Giverny. In Coup de soleil, Bonnard has contrasted that savage character with the rigid form of the balustrade in the foreground, which adds a certain angularity, a human presence imposed upon nature in a composition that echoes the aesthetic found in Japanese gardens, and indeed pictures. Composition allowed Bonnard to reconcile his intense interest in colour with the rendering of form, capturing the scenes before him with an absorbing intensity. In Coup de soleil, this is heightened by the upper frame provided by the horizon, itself lying under strikingly evocative clouds that also serve a pictorial purpose in pushing the intense colours of the garden into bolder relief.