The Public Gardens cycle is made up of nine panels, commissioned in 1894 by Alexandre Natanson for his mansion in the Avenue du Bois, in Paris (now Avenue Foch). Natanson was the director of La Revue Blanche, a literary and art journal which published the work of the Nabi group to which Vuillard belonged. The entire decoration was installed in a large room used as a living and dining room. This evocation of children playing under the watchful eye of their nannies fitted in perfectly with the family world of the Natansons, who had three small girls.
The set was broken up in 1929, but five panels have been reunited at the Musée d'Orsay. They are displayed around the corner of the room, as they were originally. Each composition is separate and has its own subtitle but they are all linked together by the continuity of space (earth and sky), light and colour – harmonies of beige, green and blue enlivened by a few splashes of red.
The exact location of the scenes is not clear, some panels suggesting the Tuileries Gardens, others the Bois de Boulogne, near the Natanson home.
The open-air subject – a city park – bears witness to the Impressionist heritage, particularly Monet's influence. The decorative aspect makes us think of mediaeval tapestries, which Vuillard admired at the Musée de Cluny. For the first time on this scale the artist experimented with the effects of distemper which gave a matte finish, similar to that of the frescoes painted by artists from Piero della Francesca to Puvis de Chavannes. He used this effect widely for his decorative works. Lastly the influence of Japanese prints and screens can be seen in the arrangement of forms and voids, the decentring and the lack of symmetry.