In 1859, while Gustave Courbet was staying in Frankfurt with the German painter Victor Müller, he became acquainted with Etienne Carjat, who had been living in Germany since1856, mainly in Baden-Baden where he sketched tourists. The caricaturist, who had been practising photography since 1860, very quickly became one of the painter's close friends. Courbet seemed to have a genuine and warm liking for Carjat. He liked Carjat to photograph him in different poses and costumes, as a bourgeois in his frock coat, as the artist at work in shirt sleeves… More than ten such portraits were produced throughout the 1860s, underlining Courbet's interest in his own image.
In 1860, when Courbet posed for the portrait presented here, he was forty years old and a well-known, well-established painter. The three-quarter-length, seated pose confers a great dignity on the model. The image is made more impressive by the imposing format of the photomechanical print that Jules Marie produced from Carjat's print in the following year
As confirmed in the handwritten note on the original mount, which has been preserved, Courbet gave this print to the wife of Pierre Dorian, the Minister for Public Works and National Defence in the government formed after the fall of the Second Empire. The two men, both originally from the Franche-Comté region, shared the same Republican ideals. The painter had asked Dorian to intervene on his behalf after his arrest in 1871, following the affair of the Vendôme column. Perhaps it was to thank him that he sent this print to Madame Dorian, choosing a portrait which showed him still young and at the height of his career, even though he was at the beginning of the most unhappy period of his life.