For a long time in painting, the bed and the space around it, often linked with "etiquette", were regarded as a place to represent kings, nobles and intellectuals, or as a setting for courtesans. The highly Romantic Death of Sardanapalus by Delacroix (1828, Paris, Musée du Louvre) is possibly the last major example of this type of scene, and its high point. It depicts the prince just before he commits suicide. Dressed in all his finery, he contemplates his women and plundered treasures laid out before him on and around his bed. Subsequent generations developed a more down-to-earth view of a place and item of furniture that is so much a part of everyone's daily life, from birth to death.
In the years 1891-1892, Vuillard returned to this theme several times in small-scale paintings – including In Bed (Paris, Musée d'Orsay) and The Cradle (Paris, Musée Picasso) – a painting that had belonged to Picasso. The artist used this motif to express the Nabi contribution to contemporary painting.
The simplicity of forms and his skill in suggesting a situation with a few areas of flat colour – the canvas emerging through the deliberately muted range of tones - remind us of Vuillard's debt to Japanese prints, and anticipate the great decorative paintings and lithographs of later years.