It was not until the year 1860 that Manet seriously began to date his paintings. Previously, only two were dated, one to 1854 , the other to 1856.
Although dated, this portrait has eluded attempts to identify the sitter. Leon Leenhoff
annotated the Lochard photograph as "portrait ancien." Theodore Duret thought it a portrait
of the singer Rubini; but Rubini died in 1854. Moreau-Nelaton suggested Paul Roudier, a
friend of Manet's since their school-days at the College Rollin. This last hypothesis can
be tested against the portrait drawing dedicated to Roudier, where the features
appear to be quite different.
Certainly, the direct, relatively informal pose -- head and shoulders against an arbitrarily
lit background without props would seem to suggest a friend, or even a member of the Manet
family. Oddly enough, the pose of the head is close to that of Manet's mother in the
double-portrait of his parents, also dated 1860, that was exhibited at the Salon of 1861. And as there, the light source comes from the right,
though Manet is not yet prepared to sacrifice all half-tones in recording the transition
from a lit to a shadowed surface. The painting is solidly built up, discreetly brushed,
without undue panache or bravura. Only a few yellow touches on shirt and waistcoat break
the overall harmony of black and grey, set against a brownish background.