One of the most influential figures in French painting, Courbet is best known for his innovative painting style, covering controversial subjects. His work, along with those of Honore Daumier and Jean-François Millet, became known as Realism, representing a break from the conventional Romantic and Neo-classical schools. Courbet moved away from the perfection of line and form praised by the Academy. His works display a spontaneous and rough handling of the paint, establishing a closer engagement with the subject. This results in a "true" depiction of nature, including all its irregularities. The present work is an example of this approach to portraiture, in which the subject is depicted without embelishment or idealization, but rather simply as he would have been. The present work, endearingly inscribed 'To my old friend Anatole' could even be of the sitter. This sketch also represents Courbet's interest in depicting the working classes, in an ideal attempt to erase social contradiction and injustice through painting.
Courbet's works can be found in some of the world's most important museums, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hermitage Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and the Metroplitan Museum of Art.