No portraitist in any medium better rendered the spirit and intellect of his subjects through their physiognomies than Nadar did in his photographs of the leading figures of the Second Empire. This fine example, an unretouched print in pristine condition, was the first important portrait by him to be acquired by the Metropolitan. The glaring eyes, tousled hair, and deliberate pose of Pierre-Clément-Eugène Pelletan (1813–1884) vividly suggest the fiery, passionate prose of his essays on art, philosophy, history, social issues, the nature of progress, and liberty.
A few years before he took this photograph, Nadar wrote a thumbnail biography of the combative man it lionizes: "The number one French critic . . . who is at the same time a poet, a man of style, and a man with heart. . . . I have read critical articles by M. Pelletan . . . that moved me as much as a passage from Sand and interested me as much as a novel by Balzac."