The river is lush with majestic and beautiful lillies. White lotus flowers float on the surface and pink and yellow ones stand tall on stems high above the water. Across the bank is a tropical jungle. The Flamingoes' emphasis is on the left-hand side of the picture. The lillies symbolise a sense of peace and calm. They are the main focal point in this painting and are the largest objects in advancing colours. The lillies come together in harmony and draw attention to the flamingoes. The flamingoes are lined up in a group, with the youngest at the front and the eldest at the rear.
The villagers are subordinate; they appear to give the painting a little more life, but are not significance. The repetition and flow of the painting is consistent, depicting nature. Rousseau uses a lot of blues and greens in this painting, as opposed to warm advancing colours, such as pinks and yellows. This masterpiece celebrates the juxtaposition of the real and the imaginary. Rumour had it that Rousseau's army service included a French expedition to Mexico and that this is where he’d gained his inspiration. However, this was later refuted.
It is thought that the artist's interest in tropical climes stemmed from illustrations he admired in children’s books and the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, as well as stuffed animals. To the critic Arsène Alexandre, he described his frequent visits to the Jardin des Plantes: "When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands, it seems to me that I enter into a dream." He had also reportedly met soldiers during his term of service who, upon surviving the French expedition to Mexico, had recounted stories of the subtropical country they’d encountered.