This decorative panel is part of a set of four large paintings produced by Bonnard between 1906 and 1910 for the dining room of Misia Sert, a muse for many painters, poets and musicians at the beginning of the 20th century. Already for several years previous to this, Bonnard had been moving away from the Nabi precepts. He no longer painted flat areas of colour, had rediscovered a certain feeling of space by abandoning closed compositions, and had, in some respects, come back to the play of light the Impressionists loved so much. Like his friends Maurice Denis and Ker-Xavier Roussel, he returned to classical tradition and Arcadian themes - the dream of a mythical golden age beloved by Nicholas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, and also depicted by Puvis de Chavannes and Gauguin.
Water Games is an invitation to take a journey: mythical bathers frolic in the water on the edge of an imaginary riverbank where an oriental figure crouches. On the left, a mysterious galleon full of contemporary figures creates a temporal and spatial dissonance typical of Bonnard's humour. It may also be a reference to Misia's yacht.
As for the highly imaginative orange border, where monkeys jump and magpies flutter, it is reminiscent of the exotic themes in 18th century tapestries, but also of the great decorative compositions framed with vegetation by Puvis de Chavannes. Could these monkeys playing with pearl necklaces perhaps be an allusion to the beautiful Misia, the famous gold-digger?