Renoir was among the greatest of Impressionist portraitists, and his superiority in this field was acknowledged in his own day. In 1878 Thodore Duret stated, "Renoir excels at portraiture," and other critics called him a "portraitiste minent" (quoted in C. Bailey, Renoir's Portraits, exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1997, p. 4). Moreover, portraiture was at the center of his oeuvre, more fundamental to his artistic achievement than the nude.
Painted in 1888, the painting emanates a luminosity typical of the works of this period, such as his monumental Les Grandes Baigneuses (Daulte, no. 514), painted the year before. The paintings formed a striking contrast with contemporary portraiture (such as the works of Manet or Bazille), which typically relied on darker, more somber hues. Colin Bailey comments:
What distinguishes them (Renoir's portraits) from those of Renoir's contemporaries is the extraordinary light with which they are imbued, "the natural light of day penetrating and influencing all things," which transforms and radicalizes Renoir's figures set in interiors, both in his portraiture and in his genre painting... (This) use of natural light... is at the heart of Renoir's practice as a figure painter, and it accounts for much of the bewilderment with which his early work was received. For Mallarm's perceptive comment on La Loge -- "this scene is fantastically illuminated by an incongruous daylight" -- could be applied to nearly all of Renoir's portraits (ibid. pp. 21-25).
In the present painting, the figure of the young girl is carefully modelled, her strong contours contrasting with the flat, indistinct background. His brushwork is smooth and polished in the girl's face and intentionally looser elsewhere, in her hair and in the patches of color in the background. By this means he give substance to her physical presence while also producing an alluring delicacy. The soft pastel shades and the red of her hair enhance this effect. The same muted palette and control of form is visible in a series of similar portraits of Edmond Renoir, the artist's nephew (Daulte, nos. 531-534).