This particular portrait was created in Paris in around 1880 and it is currently held thousands of miles from its original birthplace in the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas. Isabelle Lemonnier with a Muff has been painted in oils in an Impressionist style. Impressionism was an art form that was very popular in Europe in the 19th century, and Manet was one of the key artists painting in this style. Impressionist works of art are typified, like Isabelle Lemonnier with a Muff, by an emphasis on depicting light using thin, quick looking brush strokes.
Impressionist painters typically took 'ordinary' themes as their subject matter, but conveyed their subjects in a powerful, inventive, highly imaginative manner. Alongside Manet, another famous French Impressionist was Monet, who is especially well known for his paintings of water lilies. Manet's painting Isabelle Lemonnier with a Muff depicts, as its title suggests, a real woman. Isabelle Lemonnier was the daughter of a jeweller who lived in Paris and who was known for his business success. Interestingly, her sister Marguerite Charpentier was also the sitter for a famous painter: Auguste Renoir. Manet painted Isabelle Lemonnier again and again, particularly in the late 1870s and early 1880s.
In another art work, simply titled 'Portrait de Mademoiselle Isabelle Lemonnier' for instance, she is depicted sitting face on and wearing a fresh white dress. In other works, Manet painted her in profile with flowers in the corner of the canvas, and reclining in a domestic interior. Manet also wrote letters to her, decorating them with watercolour designs. It is clear that he was fond of her, and that the painting Isabelle Lemonnier with a Muff has a long history behind it which it is possible that art critics may never fully uncover. Intriguingly, though the title of the art work is Isabelle Lemonnier with a Muff, the muff in question is painted with relatively bare, suggestive brush strokes in contrast with the more realistic depiction of the sitter's facial features and the top half of her clothing. It is almost as if, despite the title, Manet wishes the focus of the painting to be Isabelle Lemonnier's face rather than the muff that she holds down low, level with her waist.