The sitter of the present work was a model who Cadell painted regularly during this period. He was an Edinburgh-based boxer called Manny Abrew, a light-heavy weight who went on to box in world-title fights in the 1930s. The same sitter appears in a number of portraits in the early 1920s, such as Negro (Pensive) (private collection) and Negro in White (Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection, Dundee). Cadell was known to paint both Manny and his elder brother at this time, as well as other local boxers. The artist had an interest in sports and the masculine physicality of sportsmen at their peak of fitness, and these athletic models were painted to capture the zeitgeist for health and fitness at this time, as well as to portray the tension of such physicality. Cadell himself was a keen follower of boxing, rugby and football and kept scrapbooks containing photographs of rugby players and wrestlers.
In the present work, the painter's emphasis on the masculinity and strength of the sitter, is contrasted with the exotic coral necklace that he wears around his neck, and the tropical paradise in which he appears to be sitting. This paradise has been created by the leaves of the hot-house plant behind the sitter's head, which are set against a dark blue background. This is a device that the artist regularly used, as the work was actually painted in his studio at Ainslie Place, Edinburgh where he moved in 1920. The distinctive colour tones in which the house was decorated, created a dramatic framework to his studio works. As Tom Hewlett has remarked, 'there was no mistaking the house in Ainslie Place in which Bunty lived. He painted the front door in vivid ultramarine ... The main rooms, on the ground floor, were large and well proportioned. He used the drawing room as his studio, and painted the walls a rich mauve colour in sharp contrast to the brilliant white painted woodwork of the panelled, inter-connecting doors. The highly polished dark wooden floor reflected the bright colours of the carefully placed Whytock and Reid furniture and provided the theme for many of his dramatic interiors' (see Cadell, London, 1988, pp. 53-54).
Cadell was not alone in painting black sitters throughout the 1920s, and his contemporary, the portrait painter Glyn Philpot, regularly painted his Jamaican manservant, Henry Thomas. However, Guy Peploe has remarked of Cadell's portraits of black sitters of this period, in which the sitters are presented with their eyes averted from the viewer, 'Nothing is forced, contrived or mannered about about his treatment of the nude; the relaxed pose and eyes suggest a comfort far from the erotically charged nudes of Duncan Grant or Keith Vaughan. The almost complete lack of 'angst' is his work seems to derive from an intense love of life, a sensuous enjoyment of good living and an admiration for men who were masculine and women who were elegant. His subject matter reflected his hedonism. Whether he was painting landscape, still life, interiors or figures, there was a glow of health and beauty (F.C.B. Cadell, A Critical Memoir, see T. Hewlett, Cadell, The Life and Works of a Scottish Colourist 1883-1937, London, 1988, p. 12).