It is tempting to see in this drawing an initial idea for Olympia (Musée d'Orsay), but it is very different from known sketches of Victorine Meurent, who modelled for the painting. It is more likely to be a simple sketch, a doodle to while away the time. The very spirited use of the wash brings to mind contemporary sketches of female figures by Constantin Guys.
And yet in both the drawing and the canvas which made such a scandal in the Salon of 1865, we find the same sharp contrast between the dark hanging in the background and the white body reclining on the sheet. In the painting, the cat is further to the right and has been replaced in the centre of a composition by a black servant holding a bunch of flowers.
The model's nonchalance recalls Nude Maja (Madrid, Prado) by Goya, an artist that Manet much admired, and Delacroix's Odalisque (private collection). The Woman with a Cat casts a knowing glance at the spectator while Olympia's eyes seem to be challenging those who gaze at her.