Alphonse Promayet (1822-1872) was one of Courbet's childhood friends. A violinist by profession, he followed the painter to Paris, where he taught music, and was forced to earn a living playing in several minor orchestras. Always short of money, he frequently used to stay in Courbet's studio, sleeping in a hammock behind a screen. He posed for several of his friend's paintings, and appears in two of Courbet's major works, now in the Musée d'Orsay, Burial at Ornans and The Artist's Studio. In 1858 he moved to St Petersburg where he earned a living teaching music to a branch of the Romanov family. He returned to France in poor health, and Alfred Bruyas, Courbet's patron, took care of him in Montpellier. It was here that Promayet died in 1872. Courbet later expressed his gratitude to Bruyas for having taken care of his "courageous friend".
In this drawing from 1847, Promayet's intense expression is a reminder of the Romantic legacy found in Courbet's works, particularly those from the 1840s. A portrait of Promayet from the same period also appears in a series of charcoal studies Courbet produced of his friends, and includes a self-portrait. A small charcoal drawing from 1848, now disappeared, completed this series, showing clients hunched over their beers at a table in the Andler Brasserie, one of the favourite meeting places for Courbet's circle. This charcoal portrait of Promayet illustrates how, on the eve of the 1848 Revolution, Courbet's drawings from life spontaneously captured the bohemian environment in which his art developed.