According to Theodore Duret, Manet met her when he was struck by her unusual appearance at the Palais de Justice, where she was carrying a guitar. Despite the fact that she was only twenty years old when she sat for this painting in 1862, the portrait of Victorine Meurend shows a woman who has already experienced difficult times. Her hunched shoulders and tired expression make her look weary and almost defeated, a contrast to the confident seductress that she is portrayed as in Olympia. Despite this, or maybe because of it, Manet immortalises her unconventional beauty in oils, paying an attention to detail that was usually reserved for portraits of the aristocracy, giving an insight into his high opinion of the young woman.
Possibly the most notable area of this painting is Meurend's eyes. Large and soulful, Manet painted them with an exceptional level of detail. His inclusion of subtle golden striations in the irises and light, wispy eyelashes, makes them the focal point of the painting, despite the vibrance of her red hair. Her nose and mouth were also given the attention they deserve, but their beauty lies in their simplicity and Manet's consideration when painting their delicate angles and curves, rather than the almost obsessive perfection of her eyes. Her hair is almost entirely covered by a balzo (a headdress similar to a snood), but she has allowed wisps of red curls to escape around her ears, and the blue satin bow detail on the headdress compliments her colouring perfectly.
Meurend's monochromatic clothing, the simple white top with delicate black detailing, allows the observer to note her hunched posture, her deflated manner, thanks to Manet's exquisitely understated shadows. Around her throat is a thin black bow, a detail that is seen in many of his other paintings, that pulls the whole piece together in it's simplicity; without it, the painting would feel somewhat lacking, somewhat incomplete. Manet's relationship with Victorine Meurend was the subject of some controversy, with many thinking that the young lady was the artists lover. Other rumours also prevailed, including the idea that she was a prostitute, and an alcoholic that had died young. The truth is that Victorine Meurend was a musician and artist in her own right, and a great friend to Manet, but it is unlikely that they were romantically involved.