Joseph Bernard came from a family of stone hewers; a grant enabled him to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Lyon (1881) then at the fine art school in Paris from 1885. He gradually freed himself from the decisive influence of Rodin and pathetic feeling and worked in an increasingly sober, monumental manner. Giving up the attempt at achieving realistic detail and turning away from clay modelling, he worked on dry plaster and directly on stone, as for this head. He was one of the first to return to working directly on stone and achieved denser volumes, simpler forms and very powerful archaic effects: the head is strikingly like a block of stone, mimicking its massive, compact nature. It can be seen as a mythical and, of course, primitive head.
Known through an exhibition in 1908, Bernard was one of the only French sculptors to exhibit at the Armory Show in New York (1913), and a retrospective of his work was included in the Salon d'Automne in 1911. A perfect incarnation of the post-Rodin reaction, he carved out an independent path between the expressionism of Antoine Bourdelle and the classicism of Aristide Maillol.