When Van Dongen painted La fleur rouge he was living in Monmartre, isolated from the rest of Paris by its exclusion from Baron Haussmann's replanning and thus remaining a village, bohemian in outlook. It is unclear exactly where the present work was executed. At the end of 1905 Van Dongen moved with his wife, Guus, and newly born daughter, Dolly, to the Bateau Lavoir, 13 rue Ravignan, renting a studio arranged for them by Picasso. Van Dongen was introduced to Picasso by the Van Reeses at the Lapin Agile, a popular artists' meeting place just across the street from the Bateau Lavoir. Good relations were quickly established, cemented by baby Dolly (according to Fernande Olivier, Picasso's muse and lover). Picasso and Van Dongen exchanged canvases and made frequent visits together to the circus and to boxing matches, in search of visual and emotional stimulation. Fernande even posed for Van Dongen (fig. 3) causing Louis Chaumeil to claim that it was she that really inspired the artist as a painter of women. Although the present work may have been modelled by Fernande, Van Dongen was also painting Guus in 1905. Torse (fig. 2) was exhibited with another painting of Guus at the 1905 Salon d'Automne, showing her to be the embodiment of sensuality, far more suggestive than that of Fernande.
During this time Van Dongen's representation of the nude was also heavily influenced by his visits to the music-halls and cafés where revue artistes performed in tight-fitting leotards (fig. 1) or danced semi-nude, such as the girls of the Rat Mort. He claimed to empathise with their situation, saying that he felt nothing but compassion for their deeply tragic histories and that he depicted them in such vivid colours in order to express the intensity of their lives.