In 1912, Pierre Bonnard purchased a small property called Ma Roulotte, translated as gypsy caravan, in Vernonnet near Vernon. No doubt his eye as a colorist drew him to the valley because of the rich, jewel-like tones of its fertile vegetation. His terrace and wooden veranda overlooked the Seine, and with the automobile he acquired in 1911 he could drive to different vistas. His home was only a short walk away from Claude Monet's, who lived in nearby Giverny. While Bonnard admired Monet's work, there were important differences in his approach to the landscape subject, as Jean-Louis Prat noted: "Bonnard always developed his own visual language, firmly rooted in reality. He did not, like Monet, virtually do away with the subject itself. He always used forms, without experimenting with abstraction, or even contemplating it" (in "Pierre Bonnard or An Enduring Painter," Bonnard, exh. cat., Paris, 1999, p. 19). In Poules blanches au bord de l'eau Bonnard has captured reality in his depiction of the resplendent sunlight falling upon the turquoise river and its embankment with little chickens waddling about, yet he has infused it with his unique visual language of simplified, flat areas of brilliant color that recall his innovations as a Nabi and glorify his lifelong achievements as a colorist.
In fact, Bonnard was able to rely exclusively on his mastery of intense, fiery, unmodulated colors to intimate atmosphere, emotion and reality. The artist wrote: "Color alone will suffice to express all one wants to say...there is no need for highlighting or modeling in painting. It seemed possible for me to reproduce light, shape and character by the use of color alone, without the help of any values" (quoted in A. Terrasse, "Some Thoughts on Pierre Bonnard," Bonnard, exh. cat., Galerie Salis, Salzburg, 1991, n.p.). The vivid tones and the subtle brushwork of Poules blanches au bord de l'eau imbue it with a meditative sense of patterning, suggestive of the Japanese prints and Persian miniatures Bonnard had admired as a student. Reflecting on his career in 1935 Bonnard stated: "I have become a painter of landscapes, not because I have painted landscapes--I have done only a few--but because I have acquired the soul of a landscape painter insofar as I have been able to free myself of everything picturesque, aesthetical or any other convention that has been poisoning me" (quoted in ibid., n.p.).