Leaning on a fabric-covered table and resting her head in her hand, this young woman looks out with an enigmatic expression. Since the Renaissance, artists have used this pose to portray melancholy. The pose, combined with her hauntingly unreadable face, gives a human poignancy and psychological tension to the figure.
Juxtaposing bold, individual strokes of color, Paul Cézanne built up the woman's powerful physical presence and the space she occupies. As a twentieth-century painter and admirer of Cézanne observed, his later works, such as Young Italian Woman have "an enormous sense of volume, breathing, pulsating, expanding, contracting, through his use of colors." While the woman's form is convincing, the space behind and around her can appear contradictory and even confusing. How far away is the wall? Is the tabletop flat underneath the cloth? Does she sit or stand? These questions give tension and movement to an otherwise stable composition.
From the 1890s until the end of his life, Cézanne painted a number of these grand figure studies, usually relying upon local workers or residents for his models.