This charming portrait, painted at the age of only twenty-three, is perhaps the earliest signed and dated picture by Renoir that has come down to us. We know little of his
early work; in dissatisfaction, it is said, he destroyed most of what he had painted between 1862 and 1866.
Renoir visited the artist's paradise of that time, the village of Barbizon, and here the little girl's family, on vacation, commissioned the artist to do her portrait. Already in this youthful work we see the traits that were to give Renoir his high place among the greatest painters of all time. The canvas transmits in an amazing way the alert energy of the sitter. One feels the artist's irrepressible love for people, his amazing facility for catching individual character, and his genius for endowing a canvas with the spirit of youthful femininity. Renoir's apprenticeship at porcelain painting is recalled in the lustrous color, and in the china-delicate pinks of the face and hands.
Like many a French artist before him, Renoir searches out the decorative grace of his subject: he is enchanted by the playful curves of the edging on the pinafore, and this becomes a theme that is varied in the contours of the hair, blouse, and skirt. Decorative enrichment led to the almost iridescent treatment of the background to the right; and again to the brilliant invention of the hands, which rest on a cluster of flowers. Through passages of a luminous warm tint in the blouse, Renoir carries the eye upward to the head; the reds of the flowered background, the earrings, and the lips lead us down again to the main statement of the red theme in the flowers.
By devices of organization such as these, Renoir gives this picture its beautiful pictorial harmony; but its supreme beauty comes from its emanation of the very spirit of childhood.