Renoir's work from the early 1870s is characterized by a luminous palette and an assertive painterly technique. Influenced by Monet, with whom he often painted during the years 1869-1874, he began to concentrate on the fleeting effects of light and to make his spontaneous impressions of nature the primary subject of his plein air landscape painting. Le chemin dans la forêt was painted three years before the first Impressionist exhibition, yet its confident handling suggests that Renoir had no hesitation about the course his art was taking.
Whether it were the Forest of Fontainebleau or the environs of Saint-Cloud, where he moved in 1871, Renoir was captivated by the effects of light that filtered through the branches of trees. In the present painting he uses the vertical axis of the trees to frame the scene. Renoir's landscape paintings achieve a fusion of classicism and Impressionism whose "careful compositional framing and combination of all elements in to a harmonious ensemble clearly belongs to the heritage of Claude, while the small scale, the broken touch and the summary description of objects closely ally the picture with the tradition of the Impressionist sketch (J. House, Renoir, London, 1985, exh. cat., p. 77). Indeed the palette of Le chemin dans la forêt and its staccato brushwork is reminiscent of Renoir's masterpiece of 1870, La promenade (Daulte no. 55; coll. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles). Renoir's radical style drew the attention of contemporary critics such as Arsene Houssaye, who commented, "The two real masters of this school, which is concerned less with art-for-art's sake than nature-for-nature's sake, are MM Monet and Renoir, two true masters by virtue of the brutal candor of their brush" (quoted in Renoir, A Retrospective, New York, 1987, exh. cat., p. 63).