The Nabi group, to which Vallotton belonged, was closely linked to La Revue Blanche, founded in 1889 by the Natanson brothers: Alexander (1867-1936), Thadeus (1868-1951 and Alfred (1873-1932), all three, sons of a Polish banker. Vallotton was one of the regular contributors to La Revue Blanche, like his fellow artists Bonnard, Vuillard and Toulouse Lautrec. He left many portraits of the Natansons, notably this portrait of Alexander.
A brilliant businessman and journalist, and part of the Jewish intelligentsia, Alexander Natanson occupied a prominent position in the wealthy, middle class milieu of Paris, through his financial power and his numerous activities in the world of the press, and his patronage of famous artists.
Vallotton represented this man at the height of his success in this portrait painted in 1899. The model, elegantly dressed, is sitting on a balcony in front of an opaque, green background. At the bottom of the painting, in the foreground, the light area created by the crossed legs of the model, acts as a foil to what is a very classical, frontal composition. The acute psychological observation is helped by the very sober treatment.
Natanson hung the portrait above his desk. When, experiencing great financial difficulties in 1929, he decided to auction his collection, this painting was withdrawn from the sale and bought back. It then remained in the Natanson family, until it entered the Musée d'Orsay collections in 2005.