Apart from one drawing course, Léon Bonvin was a self-taught artist although his older half-brother François, who had garnered recognition among Paris's Realist painters, encouraged him and gave him supplies. Often short of money, Bonvin opened a restaurant, which soon became a meeting place for artists.
This striking self-portrait, dated 15 January 1866, is dedicated to the artist's wife. They had married in 1861. During the 1860s the artist's financial situation worsened and in January 1866 he travelled to Paris to find buyers for his work. The day after an art dealer rejected it, on 30 January, he committed suicide, just over a fortnight from the date of this drawing.