Bonnard spent a large part of his childhood at Le Clos (fig. 1), the home of his paternal grandmother at Le Grand-Lemps, near the Côte-Saint-André in Isère, and he subsequently spent many summers here, particularly from 1900. 'La maison du Grand-Lemps s'anime des enfants nés au foyer de Claude Terrasse. Bonnard, qui y revient toujours en été, observe tous leurs jeux...Il participe à toutes les joies, à tous les tours, surprend les allures comiques, les gestes gracieux ou mal assurés et prolonge son amusement dans l'atelier que sa mère lui a fait aménager au second étage de la maison' (A. Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard, Paris 1967, p. 52).
The intimacy of life at Le Clos was a favourite subject of Bonnard's and the children of his sister at play in the garden became an important theme, both in his paintings and photographs. Jardin en Dauphiné displays the same unaffected nature and immediacy as do his Le Clos garden photographs from the end of the century. Later, these photographs, together with his own childhood memories, provided the source for many of his intimate depictions of the family home.
Executed in 1901, Jardin en Dauphiné bears witness to a period of transition in Bonnard's oeuvre which gave rise to a tension between the Nabis style of the 1890s and his growing interest in the work of the Impressionists. He was increasingly concerned with colour as a means of expression, and the contrasts between light and shade in the present work foreshadow the conflict between the transient light of the north and the heavy atomsphere of the south which was to result in his palette becoming stronger and bolder, as in L'Été of 1917 (fig. 2). Bonnard also considered the Impressionists to have been too uninterested in composition. The encroaching foliage framing Jardin en Dauphiné, as well as the heavy foreground shadows surrounding the children and their dog display Bonnard's formal attitude towards pictorial composition, while at the same time displaying the artist's sense of aesthetic freedom.