Pierrette originates from one of Rouault's most expressive and beloved series. His interest in the world of the circus found its greatest outlet in his art during the 1920s and 1930s, later prompting Ambroise Vollard to commission etchings and woodcuts for the book Cirque de l'étoile filante, published in 1938. These depictions were based on his own childhood memories of the circus, as he remembered them, "Acrobats and horsewomen, sparkling or passive clowns, tightrope walkers and freaks, and my friends, color and harmony, since my earliest childhood I have been in love with you" (quoted in Bernard Dorival & Isabelle Rouault, Rouault, l'oeuvre peint, Monte Carlo, 1988, vol I, p. 153). Rouault combats the potential frivolity of the subject with a Cloisonnist style in which the figures and objects are delineated with black outlines. Evoking the imagery of stained glass imbues the subject with a profound and spiritual depth. Unlike other artists who employed Cloisonnist techniques, however, Rouault employs expressionistic brushstrokes that deconstruct forms and bring his subject to the edge of abstraction.
Rouault was particularly drawn to the clowns and their expressive potential as subjects for portraiture. These nomadic entertainers represented freedom and naiveté, and were for Rouault a release from his focus on the darker images of life. His series of clown portraits is marked by an emotional immediacy that is unique both within his oeuvre and the spectrum of modern art. Lionello Venturi writes, "When he paints clowns, however, the grotesque becomes amiable, even lovable... colors grow rich and resplendent, almost as if the artist, laying aside his crusader's arms for a moment, were relaxing in the light of the sun and letting it flood into his work" (Lionello Venturi, Rouault, Lausanne, 1959, pp. 21 & 51).