The Game of Croquet is one of the first works by Pierre Bonnard, one of the founders of the Nabi group in 1888. It was exhibited in 1892 at the Salon des Indépendants under the title Twilight. The painting shows the garden of the family home, at Le Grand-Lemps, in Isère. From left to right we see the artist's father, his sister Andrée, his brother-in-law, the musician Claude Terrasse, and a woman friend. In the background, five young women in white dresses are whirling in a frenzied dance.
The contrast between the frieze effect in the foreground and the lively scene in the background is not the only daring aspect of the painting. The checked clothing of the croquet players seems flat, laid like a collage on the foliage. The subject of the painting is Impressionist – the pleasure of a fine summer in the country. And yet Bonnard, "the very Japanese Nabi" as his friends called him, has painted the scene with areas of flat colour and ornamentation, no doubt inspired by the Japanese prints he was so fond of. The painting is an excuse to develop a varied green environment into which the white silhouettes are inserted.
"We were trying to go further than the Impressionists and their naturalist impressions of colour," he said of his youthful years. "After all, art is not nature!"