Theophile Gautier here embodies the image of the Romantic poet. He sports an elegant cap of damask cloth trimmed with braid, and his shaggy beard and hair seem to grow right into his furry overcoat. He gazes thoughtfully away from the camera, solemn and erect, with his hand thrust into his waistcoat.
Gautier was a poet and journalist who championed the concept of "art for art's sake," that is, that art need serve no other purpose than to exist for its own achievement. He later softened his approach, explaining that, "smitten in my youngest years with painting and sculpture, I became a delirious lover of art
." Gautier and Nadar were lifelong friends. As editor of the journal L'Artiste, Gautier published many of Nadar's photographs, including an engraving after this portrait in 1859.
Another version of this image, an edition print of the kind that Nadar offered for sale in his studio, was trimmed to an oval.