This portrait of the American painter William Turner Dannat (1853-1929) is one of a small number by Raffaëlli depicting his artist-friends. Dannat is shown in his studio, his brushes and easel resting on a stool, while the ruffled material heaped on the floor by the door alludes to Dannat's favourite Spanish subject matter. Indeed, the painting he is contemplating on the easel is clearly a version of the Aragonese Smuggler, which was purchased by the French state in 1883 (Paris, musée d'Orsay, fig. 1).
Dannat cuts a dashing, tall figure, an impression reinforced by a deliberately lively style. The raking angles, and linear, graphical brushwork are set into sharp relief by the background colour of the untreated panel which is used to silhouette the sitter, and echo the pinstripes of the subject's suit, imbuing the composition with unusual energy. Both the style, with its lack of modelling and solid forms, and the mondain subject, are quite different to the urban images of everyday life and poverty which characterised Raffaëlli's paintings of the 1880s.
Raffaëlli alluded to this change in the introduction to an exhibition of his works at the Art Institute of Chicago held in January 1900, in which he also referred to his friendship with Dannat. He wrote: 'The strange effects of my first trip to America, with its vivid impressions, must also be taken into account. I here discovered an unending hope for all men who have confidence in their own power. Why not also acknowledge that the success of my own efforts has brought me to believe in happiness. In this connection, I recall some words of your great painter William E. Dannat, who had come to purchase a picture executed in my earlier style. The subject was a very much bent over old laborer. "Yes," said he, "that little old man is worth a big price, for he who created him is dead; for you my dear Raffaëlli, will never do that any more." And my friend was right.'
It seems that Dannat likely influenced Raffaëlli's decision to visit America, where he stayed for five months in 1894, returning again for a prolonged period in 1899.