In this work, Bouguereau depicted himself at the age of 54, in the prime of life, in three-quarter view and facing forward in a solemn pose, the insignia of the Legion of Honour on his lapel. A comparison with photographs of the artist reveals that, to show himself off to best advantage, he made his nose and ear smaller than they really were.
Bouguereau executed eight self-portraits at various times during his life. This one formed a pendant to a portrait of Elizabeth Jane Gardner, the American-born painter he would marry in 1896. Painted in 1879, the two works made up a pair and, for Bouguereau, were a token of love for his fiancée.