Berthe Morisot and her husband Eugène Manet, brother of the painter, had known Renoir for many years. Their relationship became much closer in the second half of the 1880s. The Manets' admiration for the painter's talent, and their friendship for the man, convinced them, in 1887, to commission a portrait of their daughter Julie.
There were at least four preparatory drawings for the painting. Making few changes in the model's pose, but changing from the more frontal presentation he had once considered, Renoir quickly decided on the final composition. Julie, later Madame Ernest Rouart (1878-1966), remembered the sittings. Renoir painted this portrait, she said, "in small sections, which was not his usual way of working. I thought it was a good resemblance, but when Degas saw it he complained: "by doing round faces, Renoir produces flower pots".
It has to be said that this development in Renoir's style, characterised by a new attention to line and drawing, and using vivid colours, upset a number of his close friends. Berthe Morisot, on the other hand, particularly liked the work of Renoir's "Ingresque" period.
Julie Manet's portrait is a magnificent example of Renoir's research at that time, especially for its refined finish and enamel-like surface. But the painting is also successful in the sensitivity and affection that the painter brings to his young model.