Emile Bernard was born in Lille, France, and is considered a pioneer among Post-Impressionist painters. He began his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, befriending fellow artist Louis Anquetin and his future mentor, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. He joined the Atelier Cormon in Paris in 1884 where he experimented with Impressionism and, following conversations with Seurat, Pointillism. In studying modern concepts of perspective and color, Bernard developed a technique known as Cloissonism. This style of painting, with bold forms and flat planes of color separated by dark contours, typified Bernard's aesthetic during most of his career. His works show geometric tendencies that conjure such contemporaries as Paul Cézanne, and hint at his close relationships with Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.
After being suspended from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for insubordination, Bernard was able to tour extensively, finding new inspiration in North Africa. At the same time, Bernard began to look more to the tradition of the Italian Renaissance masters and the Venetian School, ultimately prompting him to eschew the flatness of Cloissonism and veer toward a more classical treatment of form and color. Bernard explains, 'I have allowed myself to be guided as far as possible by form; noble, grave austere tones have become my ideal.'
Bernard applies a rich yet limited palette in Oriental Seated Beauty. A strong light illumines the figure, reducing the background to a dark plane and yet does not diminish the sense of real dimension. The figure has a certain dignity in countenance, unlike the languid and coy expressions of many other Orientalist models. Bernard conveys his deep visual interest in the subject, carefully recording the items surrounding her. Such objects he would have seen on his travels through Tunisia and Egypt: rosewood clogs inlaid with mother-of-pearl, an ivory fan, gold necklaces and clustered bracelets, a carved-wood Moresque table and a variety of rich fabrics. Bernard's virtuosity is demonstrated in the rendering of silk in the figure's North African dress as well as the model's legs which are expertly painted to show through the sheer material while maintaining her modest beauty.