Characteristic of the early self-portraits produced by Courbet between 1842 and 1854, this drawing can be dated to the second half of the 1840's. At that time, Courbet often used charcoal or black pencil for portraits or self-portraits.
The initial purpose of this work is problematic. It is large enough to be exhibited but a visible outline appears as a second frame within the picture. Should this then be considered as a preparatory drawing for a painting? But this practice was extremely rare in Courbet's work.
With this drawing, the artist claimed a certain heritage of traditional painting - in particular it is reminiscent of Rembrandt's chiaroscuro - while making his own the dramatisation and subjectivity associated with romanticism.
The dynamism of the pose, accentuated by a composition in low angle, is counterbalanced by the meditative expression of the face with eyes half-closed. The willpower this drawing emanates, reinforced by the principles of its composition, is on a par with the most striking self-portraits painted during this period.
In 1854, Courbet stated: "I executed many portraits of myself in my life as my state of mind was evolving. I have written my life in one word". This charcoal drawing illustrates this approach with force: the quest of a man who throughout his life questioned his status and experience as an artist.
There are few drawings by Courbet, which makes this work all the more exceptional.