Auguste Vacquerie, a poet, playwright, paintings collector, and occasional art critic, was admitted to poet Victor Hugo's intimate circle as a very young man. While in exile with Hugo and his family on Jersey, Vacquerie continued to write, grew the beard he wears in Nadar's portrait, and, having learned photography from Hugo's son Charles, made a series of photographs documenting the family and the local landscape. Thus for a short time Vacquerie was a photographer, one of the very few whom Nadar photographed.
In order to compete with painted portraits, photographers of the 1850s and 1860s frequently employed artists to embellish their images. Nadar was not an exception in this practice, although few painted photographs from his studio have survived. In this example, variously dense layers of reddish-black ink cover almost the entire surface of the print, with the overall effect of coarsening the image. Although the ink has been skillfully applied, particularly in the hair and beard, the subtlety of expression around Vacquerie's eyes has been lost and the shape of his mouth distorted. The retoucher radically changed the shape of Vacquerie's left sleeve by painting out a billowing wrinkle in order to simplify the silhouette. With his photographic sensibilities, Vacquerie may have rejected the painted proof, causing it to remain in Nadar's studio.