This work is the only major portrait painted by Georges Seurat, who died at the age of 31. It depicts his companion, Madeleine Knobloch, applying make-up. The theme of nature and artifice, represented by the use of cosmetics, is echoed in Seurat's distinctive technique, called ‘pointillism’. He applied a ‘skin’ of coloured dots to the surface of his work to animate it and create volume. Following newly formulated optical theories, he placed colours from opposite sides of the colour wheel — orange and blue, pink and green — next to each other for greater contrast.
In the frame above the sitter's head was once a mirror showing the reflection of Seurat at his easel. After being ridiculed by a friend, Seurat replaced it with a vase of flowers, painting over his only known self-portrait.