For Renoir, 1888 marked the end of a long period of doubt and experimentation during which he sought to escape what he believed were the limits and approximations of the impressionist technique. His 1887 painting "The Large Bathers" (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia) is the most accomplished expression of that endeavor, which sometimes led the painter to excessive hardness and dryness. In 1888, Renoir seems, at last, to have achieved that long sought-after synthesis between drawing and color; a precise definition of form and freedom of the brush.
This portrait of a young girl demonstrates his new method, which integrates fresh demands for solid form, precise contours, and modeling while also re-adopting what the artist called his “former sweet, light painting style.”
A smaller version in a private collection (perhaps a preparatory study) of the same young girl in profile lacks the delicate touch that is so remarkable here, both in the face and the background, with its infinitely subtle tonal variations.