Le compotier de mandarines was painted two years after Bonnard purchased a modest villa at Vernonnet, a picturesque hamlet in the Seine valley not far from Giverny. During the next three decades, the artist turned increasingly for his subject matter to the rooms in which he lived, first at Vernonnet and later at Le Cannet, evoking the rhythms of domestic intimacy through paintings of still lifes and interior. The present picture is an absorbing example of the work from these years, its warm palette and compressed space lending the familiar still life motif an air of unfamiliar enchantment. As Nicholas Watkins observes of Bonnard's work from this period: "Paintings begun in the memory of a visual experience were transformed through colour into a rich, immensely varied surface made up of a tapestry of brushstrokes, glazes, scumbles, impasto, highlights and pentimenti. Objects were not so much painted as felt into shape within the surface over a long period. 'The principal subject is the surface, which has its colour, its laws over and above those of objects. It's not a matter of painting life, it's a matter of giving life to painting'" (Bonnard, London, 1994, p. 171).
Bonnard's focus on still life compositions grew during the 1920s, as he had to devote himself more and more to caring for his long-term partner Marthe, whom he would marry a few years later. While his fame grew, resulting in new patrons and purchases, he was increasingly retiring from any public or social life; not coincidentally, pictures of Marthe bathing, landscapes from his various homes and glimpses of small corners of his domestic life came to dominate his output. In this almost solitary existence, the still life became an increasingly important genre for Bonnard, allowing him to choose and dictate the motif in a way that landscapes did not permit while also providing an almost meditative focus for his attention to the extreme subtleties of color and its variations. In Le compotier de mandarines as well as his later still life compositions, the fruit in the bowl provides a sumptuous array of colors and forms, a hint of nature within a domestic context, allowing Bonnard to explore a composition that combines contrasting shapes both organic and man-made, creating a visual rhythm that accentuates the subtle treatment of the intense colors and perfectly encapsulating his love of "significant forms, even in small formats" (quoted in S. Whitfield and J. Elderfield, Bonnard, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1998, p. 66).