Bonnard's reputation as one of the most successful painters of his generation was already established by 1908 and was due in part to his great ability to distil the essence of quotidian life into evocative scenes of great beauty. At the root of his art lay the impetus to isolate and give significance to passing incidents of everyday life. In the present work, Femme dans un intérieur, the viewer looks through an open door into an elegant salon, where a woman sits at the far end facing away from the viewer, apparently intent on reading a letter. The setting appears to be Bonnard's own Parisian home. On the mantelpiece sits a cast of the sculpture Baigneuse debout by fellow Nabi artist, Aristide Maillol, and to the left of the mirror hangs what appears to be Femme à la robe à pois blancs (D. 01716a), one of the four panels from Bonnard's 1891 series of Femmes au jardin, now at the Musée d'Orsay. While the artist does not reveal the identity of the self-absorbed sitter, it is likely that she is Marthe de Méligny, Bonnard's mistress, his frequent model, whom he finally married in 1925. 'Bonnard, like his friend Vuillard, found congenial subjects in his domestic surroundings; he became a painter of intimité, able to invest the ordinary stuff of daily life with fresh magic. His talent [is] for delighting in themes that surround us' (D. Sutton, in exh. cat., Pierre Bonnard, London, 1966, p. 15).
The artist employs strong linear forms in Femme dans un intérieur to create spatial ambiguities and flatten perspective, notably in the rectangular shapes of the open door at the right foreground, the rug, the painted panel, the mirror and the doorframe to the left of the composition. The mirror itself acts as a compositional device lending depth to the painting through its reflected images and recurs in many of Bonnard's paintings from 1908, including La glace du cabinet de toilette at the State Pushkin Museum, Moscow (D. 488). Femme dans un intérieur is very typical of Bonnard's post-Nabi interiors from this period and underlines his preoccupation with evoking a mood rather than representing an obvious narrative. The atmosphere is articulated through the artist's rich palette of russet, orange, ochre and brown tones with wonderful texture created through the patterning of the wallpaper and rug. Bright light streams in from the tall window to the right, accentuating golden highlights in the sitter's hair and the white of her blouse, creating a harmonious colour relationship between the figure and her surroundings.