In the early 1890s, friends and admirers of Renoir took exception to the fact that the French State had never made any official purchase from the painter, then almost fifty years old. In 1892, Stéphane Mallarmé, who knew and admired the artist, helped by Roger Marx, a young member of the Beaux Arts administration and open to new trends, took steps to bring Impressionist works into the national museums. This was how, following an informal commission from the administration, Young Girls at the Piano was acquired and placed in the Musée du Luxembourg.
As well as this painting, where strong, supple drawing clearly defines the figures, while giving free rein to the lyricism of the palette, we know of three other finished versions using the same composition (one in the Metropolitan Museum de New York and the two others in private collections). There also exists a sketch in oils (Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie) and a pastel of the same size (private collection).
The repetition of this motif shows Renoir's interest for a subject he had moreover already treated. We know that the painter was always dissatisfied and kept on reworking his paintings, but such a concentrated effort on one and the same composition remains unique. Maybe we should see in this his desire to provide the museums with a perfectly accomplished work.
One can also not help thinking of the "series" that his friend Claude Monet was developing at the same time (Haystacks, 1891; Rouen Cathedral, 1892).
Recalling a classical theme that was very popular with French 18th century painters, notably Fragonard, Renoir sought to paint an ideal world, peopled with graceful young girls. But, scorning mere imitation, he also wanted to be a painter of his time, and presents us with an elegant, comfortably furnished, bourgeois interior.