William-Adolphe Bouguereau, an academically-trained artist, is best known for his paintings of mythological images and scenes of everyday peasant life. He preferred to work in a precise, finished style rather than the loose, spontaneous brushstrokes made famous by his contemporaries, the Impressionists.
In Young Girl, Bouguereau depicts a nearly life-size shepherdess, one of his favorite subjects. An idealized figure with bare feet, her pose recalls ancient Greek sculpture. Bouguereau presents her as a noble modern-day Madonna and the thistle growing behind her, symbolic of the crown of thorns and the suffering of Christ, reinforces the religious subtext of the painting.