Eugène Burnand was born on August 20, 1850 in the Swiss municipality of Moudon in the canton of Vaud. At first he received artistic instruction at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva under the tutelage of Barthélemy Menn, a Swiss painter and draftsman who introduced the concept of plein-aire painting to Swiss artists. In 1872 he moved to Paris to study in the atelier of the academic painter Jean-Léon Gérome. At this time Burnand was best known for his landscapes. During this time spent in Paris Burnand was very much influenced by both the realistic and naturalistic tendencies of such artists as Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet. He died in Paris on February 4, 1921.
The Head of a Man is a very compelling portrait of one of Eugène Burnand's Biblical figures reminiscent of the disciples Peter and John rushing to the tomb of the Risen Lord in his most celebrated painting, Les Disciples. It is entirely possible that the Head of a Man is in fact a study for the head of Peter in that painting. The meticulous rendering of the copious expanse of curly hair as well as the full beard is indicative of the classical training which Burnand received in the studio of Jean-Léon Gérome in Paris. The burning intensity of the sitter's eyes reveals a variety of emotions—fear, questioning, sadness, and perplexity. The medium of charcoal and graphite (or pencil lead) would not result in such a refinement in design execution nor the portrayal of such a range of emotions in the hands of a lesser artist.