This self-portrait, dated 1804, was executed by Michel-Martin Drlling at the age of eighteen when he was an apprentice in the studio of Jacques-Louis David. The absence in this picture of any reference to his work as a painter (no palette nor brush or pen as is usually found accompanying self-portraits) would indicate that the work was intended for the painter himself or some close relation. The sentiment of intimacy and directness expressed by the painting recalls the Self-Portrait painted by his father, Martin Drlling, circa 1791, now in the Muse des Beaux Arts, Orlans, in which the artist is depicted in the same pose, but in reverse.
The present painting is the only self-portrait of Michel-Martin Drlling known apart from a chalk drawing executed in Rome a few years later, and which is currently in the collection of the Muse des Beaux-Arts, Mulhouse. It can also be compared to a Portrait of Michel-Martin Drlling sold in the Beurdeley sale, 6 May 1920, lot 51 (bought by Georges Petit), described as 'French School', depicting Michel-Martin Drlling in an elegant costume, probably at the same age. An inscription on the back of that painting records Pt Drolling f.peint par JL David 1803.
Son of the painter Martin Drlling (1752-1817), Michel-Martin Drlling studied with his father before entering Jacques-Louis David's studio, where he is recorded in 1806. He was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1810 for La Colre d'Achille (Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts) and went to study in Italy at the Villa Medici where he remained for five years. After his return to Paris in 1816 he launched a successful career as a history painter and decorator. He executed two ceilings for the Louvre in 1826 and 1827, and was much sought after as a portrait painter.