By 1905 Bonnard was recognized as one of the most successful painters of his generation. He had built his reputation on the popularity of his interiors, which often depicted women occupied in their daily routine. "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, but which do not always appear pleasurable" (D. Sutton, Pierre Bonnard, London, 1966, exh. cat., p. 15). Intérieur is typical of Bonnard's post-Nabi portraits and interiors from the early 1900s. There are touches of intimisme in his approach but in terms of its technique--the short brushstrokes, the light tonal values, the subtle color combinations--it is possible to see Bonnard's gradual rapprochement with Impressionism and, in his compositions, with the works of Degas. As Steven Nash points out, "the use of a close-in and frequently raised perspective, the cropped and oddly angled views, and the concentration on habitual, non-academic, unselfconscious gesture link the two artists in their search for an intimacy and freshness of presentation" (Bonnard, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, 1984, p. 20).
Bonnard's painting was less concerned with depicting a narrative than with intimating a mood. Unlike the Impressionists who strove for immediacy in their work, Bonnard's paintings were not painted in situ but were constructed from memory in his studio, often with the aid of photographs. The subjects of his paintings can be understood as meditations on the people, places and things that surrounded him. It is likely that the model in the present painting was Marthe de Meligny, whom he married in 1925. During the early 1900s the notion of psychological distancing became an increasingly important element of Bonnard's paintings, beginning with Homme et femme (Dauberville, no. 182; 1898-1899; coll. Musée d'Orsay, Paris). In Intérieur this separation is registered by both the literal distance between the woman and her male companion (shown only in the mirror), and the psychological distance implied by the direction of his gaze, which is focused away from her. The mirror itself is a compositional device that gives the painting both depth and patterning through its reflected images. It is recurrent in many of Bonnard's paintings from 1905, such as Femme au miroir (Dauberville, no. 361; coll. Neue Pinakothek, Munich), A Demi Déshabillée, devant la glace (Dauberville, no. 363; location unknown), and La modiste (Dauberville, no. 351; coll. Kunstmuseum Winterthur). The somber tone of the painting is further conveyed through its restrained palette of black, brown and gray.