Perhaps influenced by his friend Degas, Manet often used pastels. The liveliness of this technique enabled him here to create an interplay between the fabrics and colours of the white skirt, the bright blue sofa and the russet background. Manet achieves the quality of the most beautiful 18th century intimist pastels by Chardin and Liotard, which have an intensity and bloom that cannot be produced with oil on canvas.
In this portrait, more than in his other paintings of that period, Manet prefers energetic and vivid contrasts, no reflections, and a range of strong colour against the luminous mellow effects of the fabrics.
Usually the date of this pastel is based on the comment of journalist and critic Théodore Duret (1838-1929) "His first pastel dates from 1874. It is a portrait of a woman lying on a sofa". Furthermore, the model's hat with its black ties also appears in a pastel of Madame Manet in profile, dated between 1873-1874 by the model herself. Madame Manet sur un canapé bleu picks up a theme often used from the early1870s by the Impressionists, Monet and even Renoir: a woman in town clothes, or indoor clothes, in a relaxed pose on a sofa. It is amusing to note how Manet, deliberately or otherwise, places his wife in the same pose as l'Olympia (1863), or at least the bust and arms.