This portrait was produced by Degas around 1855-1856, when he was only twenty one or twenty two years old and when he was preparing to go to Italy for almost three years. The portrait is of his brother, René, one of his favourite models then aged about ten. "René used to tell us how no sooner had he put his books down when he got in from school than Edgar would grab him and make him pose." (Paul-André Lemoisne, 1931).
The artist has drawn only a few facial features – the eyes, nose and full lips. The graphite, slightly blurred, makes them stand out from the paper, like a distant mask. With closed eyes and a half-open mouth, the familiar face of his young brother then becomes an apparition.