The lighting and his desperate expression in this portrait are the memorable features of all and this dramatic composition may remind some of the work of Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Courbet was forced into exile many years later and took this painting with him, underlining the fondness that he felt for it. It can now be found in the Conseil Investissement Art BNP Paribas, which is a private collection, but it has been loaned out for public viewing on occasion. Alongside perhaps The Stone Breakers, The Origin of the World, The Painter's Studio and A Burial At Ornans, it is certainly one of his most famous pieces and continues to amaze followers of French art today just as it has done since first being completed all those years ago.
In this piece the lighting flows in from the left hand side, flooding the artist's face on his right. His long hair hangs loosely and the position of his hands gives an impression of anxiety, perhaps even panic. No other form of art genre can tell us as much about the artist himself than self-portraiture. Famous artists such as Courbet often have had complex characters and this types of paintings, in addition to any quotes available from their life, is the best way of understanding more about what they did in their careers and why. The comparisons with some of the other artists mentioned here is no coincidence - Courbet studied many painters from the past in the Louvre. At the time it had one of the finest art collections in the world, and that remains very much the case today too.
Courbet is known to have particularly appreciated the work of José de Ribera, Zurbaran, Velazquez and Rembrandt. He would spend time in the Museum studying their work by eye and also sitting further back to sketch various elements of their compositions - whichever technical elements that stood out to him at the time. Some artists have even made a living from producing high quality reproductions of famous paintings during their student years, financing their more creative work that came later. Courbet did not undergo huge amounts of training in his lifetime, not formally at least, and so visits like this were essential to expanding his understanding of the craft of drawing and painting.