Although Bridge over the Riou describes a place in the south of France, its complexly patterned composition suggests a gradual reworking and reshaping rather than a quick and fluid response to what Derain saw there. From the foreground bank, over the riverbed, to the higher ground beyond, the space is compressed and flattened, but the scene can still be identified—the bridge at the lower right, a cabin down in the ravine, the beehive form of a covered well. Houses appear beyond the river, behind the trees.
In 1905 Derain and his peers in the Fauvist group had created a succés de scandale through their radical use of color, but they still accepted from Impressionism the idea that a painting should follow nature, and should try to capture the passing moment of contemporary life. By 1906, however, Derain wanted to create images that would "belong to all time" as well as to his own period, and the separate strokes of color seen in his paintings of 1905 are here subsumed into larger colored shapes, some of them outlined in exotic blues or lavenders, or an indian red or pink, say, for a tree trunk. This emotionally high-keyed color relates to the intensity of the light in the south of France, yet belongs less to nature than to art.