Thomas Ball's eight-year-old niece, Annie Chickering, posted for this sculpture in the late 1860s. The figure appears deep in thought, gazing down at the pansies and lilies on her bodice. The title of the piece is likely a pun combining the words "pansy" and pensée, the French word for 'thought'. The sculpture also illustrates a line from act 4 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, in which Ophelia says to Laertes: "...and there is pansies, that's for thoughts".
Thomas Ball, speaking about the sculpture in 'My Fourscore Year', said "...the little head 'La Petite Pensée'... has had such a wonderful success".