From 1894 onwards, Bonnard had displayed intense interest in the variety of subject matter and compositional devises which could be found in street scenes. This picture’s high viewpoint, tight organisation of space into flat horizontal bands, which rise up the picture -surface and the meticulously judged rhythm of the dark organ grinder , curved archway and rectangular, open window are also found in other paintings of similar date such as Street at Eragny-sur-Oise. Bonnard continued to explore these effects throughout the later 1890s and in his first volume of colour lithographs commissioned by Vollard and published in 1899. Bearing the general title of Some Aspects of Paris Life, two plates , Street Corner seen from Above and House in a Courtyard, are closely related to The Barrel Organ Grinder. As with Two Dogs Playing , both this painting and the lithographs express Bonnard’s debt to Japanese prints, especially the townscapes in Hiroshige’s One Hundred Views of Famous Places in Edo.
Bonnard’s apparent concern to capture a small moment from contemporary life would suggest that he shared interests with the Impressionists. Camille Pissarro thought otherwise. When referring to Bonnard’s one-man show held at Durand-Rue’s in January 1896, he burst out : ‘Yet another symbolist has perpetrated a fiasco!... all the painters who have respect for themselves, Puvis, Degas, Renoir, Monet and your humble servant , are unanimous in finding hideous the exhibition which had taken place t Durand’s. This symbolist is called Bonnard! What’s left to say? It is a complete fiasco! (Letters to his son Lucien, 1943, pp. 281-2). Pissarro implies that Bonnard’s paintings should be interpreted in the same light as Vuillard’s domestic interiors ; ‘intimisme’ is not the mere record of the small-scale events of everyday existence by the means of expressing truths which lie beneath their surface.