This work depicts the painter Henri Michel-Lévy, an artist who had links to some of the figures associated with the Impressionist movement. This was not the first time that Degas had tackled the theme of the ‘artist in his studio’: he had already painted 'Portrait of James Tissot' around 1868 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Besides the painting sketched on the right of the composition, an updated version of the theme of the 'fête galante' in the Impressionist style, attention should be drawn to the painting 'The Regattas', since this detail allows a link to be drawn between the dummy on the ground and its representation in the painting. In both cases, the mannequin is shown with its back to the artist, a resource that had already come to be known as an 'imitation of the imitation of reality'. The complex and disturbing world of the composition appears to suggest an original reading of the relationship between truth and illusion, and may also constitute a reflection on 'art’s raison d'être' and the inevitability of death.
Finally, within the cramped and solitary space, the artist introduces a further element that disturbs the more or less static appearance of the representation through the use of decentred framing and an unexpected perspective. In this unusual scene the strongest presence is that of Degas, the clear-eyed and pitiless observer of reality.