A pupil of Jacques-Louis David, Girodet received rigorous neoclassical, artistic instruction at the Royal Academy. However, during the reign of Napoleon, he achieved fame as a painter of pre-Romantic battle scenes and apotheoses of the Imperial army.
The present study of a head reflects the artist's Romantic sensibilities. Although Napoleon was in exile when Girodet executed this drawing in 1817, the model sports a type of Gallic mustache that was popular with the Emperor's corps of body guards; he is not a typical studio model.
Girodet was highly influenced by the treatise Physiognomical Fragments (1775-78) by Johann Kasper Lavater, who claimed that the human face is a mirror of a psycho-spiritual reality. The dramatic, three-quarter profile perspective, which emphasizes the cyclopean eye, heightens the Romantic impact of this head of a fierce and defiant soul.