The artist would regularly make use of sketchbooks and this artwork was taken from one of those. He liked to have the ability to work whenever he chose, and drawing was ideally suited to that. He made use of different tools for the purpose, with this sketch having been from graphite. Most of these artworks were later removed from the sketchbooks and sold on to collectors individually, which was a good way of maximising profit. Unfortunately this was not great for the purposes of documenting the artist's career and many may also have been damaged as a result of being removed from the original binding. Additionally, by being able to study a series of works together, we can take additional knowledge from that in terms of how the artist worked but this is impossible once they have been separated and sold on. This self portrait is part of one of the few sketchbooks to still remain intact and as originally intended by the artist.
The composition in front of us is head only, with the rest of the sheet left entirely untouched. The artist looks directly at us, with a long beard and aged features. His hair only remains at the back, which we can see just showing through from the sides, around his ears. His face is turned slightly to an angle, and only the key parts of his face are given detail. Touches of shadow are added with a subtle touch of graphite, helping to illustrate some of the artist's existing wrinkles which have built up over time as a result of his sometimes unstable personal life. There are also elements left without any colour at all, for the purpose of suggesting the reflection of light, such as around his cheek bones and across the top of his moustache. This helps to add depth to the piece.
The sketchbook has been documented in full by its owners and alongside this self portrait are drawings of the artist's son, as well as his wife, Madame Cezanne. They all feature a fairly similar set of techniques that suggests he produced them at around the same time. All of these have been featured in recent exhibitions of his portraits, and provide an interesting element to any display rather than just including his works in oils and watercolour. The original collection of sketches can be found at the National Gallery of Art in the US, and remains one of the few remaining, intact, binded sets. Others continue, sadly, to float from one collection to another, and efforts to collate them all have proven successful but only after an exhaustive research project.