The painting was one of Renoir's first critically successful works. At this time, Renoir's technique was still influenced by Gustave Courbet, but he continued to develop his unique style painting filtered light which he would return to in The Swing (1876) and Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876). The almost life-size portrait and unusual contrast in Lise led several critics to ridicule the work. Théodore Duret, a passionate supporter of the nascent Impressionists, bought the painting from Renoir, who was unable to sell it. Karl Ernst Osthaus, a German patron of avant-garde art, acquired Lise in 1901 for the Museum Folkwang.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) grew up in Paris. His father worked as a tailor and his mother as a seamstress. Renoir trained as a porcelain painter but the Industrial Revolution replaced porcelain painters with machines. He found work as a decorative commercial artist during the day while learning to draw in the evenings. In the early 1860s, he spent his free time studying paintings at the Louvre and worked in the studio under Charles Gleyre, spending two years at the École des Beaux-Arts. Renoir began submitting his work to the Salon in 1863. His first submission, Nymph and Faun, was rejected, leading Renoir to destroy his painting. The next year, Renoir tried again, submitting La Esméralda to the Salon of 1864. Despite its acceptance, Renoir once again destroyed his painting. Two of Renoir's works, Portrait de William Sisley (1864) and Soirée d'été, were accepted by the Salon of 1865.
In the mid 1860s, Renoir met Lise Tréhot through his friend, artist Jules Le Coeur, who was intimate with Clémence, Lise's sister. From around 1865 to 1872, Lise modeled for Renoir and was his companion during his early Salon period. Meanwhile, Renoir continued to face rejection at the Salon with Paysage avec deux figures (1866) and Diana (1867), two works featuring Lise as a model. Renoir's innovative work as an Impressionist brought great ridicule and poverty, as he was unable to sell his paintings. He survived by devoting himself to painting portraits for wealthy patrons. It would take almost another forty years for the Salon and the wider art community to recognize and acknowledge his contributions to modern art.
Renoir was 26 years old when he began painting Lise in the summer of 1867, possibly in August. It is unclear if the painting was made in the Fontainebleau forest, close to Chailly-en-Brie near Bourron-Marlotte or in Chantilly. Further, it is unknown if the painting was completed in the studio or en plein air. Renoir's friend, Edmond Maître, sent a message to Frédéric Bazille (1841–1870) about Renoir's technique during that summer, writing that Renoir was "painting strangely, having exchanged turpentine for a vile sulphate and abandoned the palette knife for the little syringue [thin paintbrush] that is known to you".