Renoir's commissions for society portraits not only helped secure his reputation but also provided him with an important source of income. Beginning in 1885, he began to divide his time between Paris and Essoyes, his wife's hometown in Burgundy. He was in residence there from the late summer through the end of October 1897 and painted Filette à la poupée during this stay. At the same time, he began to limit his portraiture mostly to models taken from his own household, whom he often painted on a smaller scale than he had previously used for his society portraits. Throughout the last decades of his life, Renoir became increasingly interested in achieving a sense of casual, spontaneous naturalism that can be seen in informal portrait studies like Filette à la poupée. Edmond, the artist's son, recalls his father's approach to painting these subjects: "When he paints a portrait he asks his model to behave normally, to sit as she usually sits, to dress as she usually dresses, so that nothing smacks of constraint or artificial preparation" (quoted in C.B. Baily, Renoir's Portraits, New Haven, 1997, p. 20).
At the very heart of Renoir's figure painting was the emphasis on natural light which he gave precedence over context. By posing the sitter in profile, against a neutral background, he was able to eliminate connotations of narrative. This modern treatment of the portrait subject allowed him to concentrate on the handling of the brushwork and to emphasize the luminous quality of the paint. The palette of Filette à la poupée is typical of his paintings of this period. Its jewel tones of red, blue, yellow and green are punctuated with touches of luminous white. Renoir enjoyed working with young models and portraits of his patrons' children had comprised a large portion of his portrait production in the previous decades. The model for Filette à la poupée is not known but the tender manner in which she is posed, cuddling her doll, underscores the sense of intimacy to the scene.