Known by his Parisian friends and contemporaries as 'Zando' and 'Le Vénitien', Federico Zandomeneghi lived, worked and exhibited alongside the leading figures of the Impressionist movement, while somehow remaining slightly outside their inner circle.
Zando's uniqueness was due in part to his reserved temperament, in part to his Italian heritage. He had begun a classical training at the Academy in his native Venice in the 1850s before spending four years in Florence in the 1860s, where he joined the macchiaioli, whose members included artists such as Telemaco Signorini, Odoardo Borrani and, briefly, Giovanni Boldini. From his formal training, he absorbed a sense of vibrant colour that reflected the influence of Venetian old master painters such as Veronese and Giambattista Tiepolo, evident for example in his extensive use of pinks, strong reds, bright blues and yellow. From his friends in Florence, who espoused a type of plein air landscape painting which aimed to capture fleeting effects of light, he evolved his own fluent style, instantly recognizable by its quick, filament-shaped brushwork.
Zando's oeuvre after his move to Paris from Italy in 1874 was informed in part by the influence of his close peers, Edgar Degas and Paul Renoir, and in part by the dictates of his dealer, the leading Impressionist gallerist, Paul Durand-Ruel, to whom he had been introduced by Degas. Zando's relationship with Durand-Ruel was double edged. Unlike his fellow Italian Giovanni Boldini, and the French artists alongside whom he worked, Zando was ill at ease in French society. His natural deference made him therefore very dependent upon Durand-Ruel who, although an able promoter of his Venetian protégé, was also a rigorous taskmaster, whose demands often placed Zandomeneghi under considerable emotional and financial pressure.
Zando's oeuvre centres largely on the world of women; his works are sensitive in nature, and usually concentrate on his subjects involved either in private, solitary pursuits, such as reading, brushing their hair, and arranging flowers, or in gentle moments of conversation or play with friends and children. Compositionally, Zando's close cropping of his subjects was similar to that of his French peers, but his overall approach to his subject was quite different: more introverted, brightly coloured, and much less detached than Degas, and less sensual and Rubensian than Renoir, the two artists to whom he is most often compared.
In this painting, the vertical arabesque of the brightly coloured leaves and the more rigid line of the balcony rail serve to frame the sitter's meditative features. Zando draws the viewer into this private scene not as a voyeur, but rather as a charmed spectator.