Julien Levy (1906–1981) was one of the most influential art dealers of the twentieth century and an impassioned champion of Surrealism, experimental film, and photography. The Julien Levy Gallery, which he opened in Manhattan in 1931 and closed in 1949, played an essential role in the shift of the cultural avant-garde from Paris to New York. Among the artists he exhibited (many for the first time in New York) were Berenice Abbott, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joseph Cornell, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Walker Evans, Frida Kahlo, Man Ray, Lee Miller, Ben Shahn, and Dorothea Tanning.
Tanning recalled that Levy's persona "was a magnet for adjectives. They swarmed around him, clung to his profile (lovely to draw), hair (shiny and black), silhouette (slim, gracile), the ensemble elegant, suave, debonair, elusive, without any of them, or even all of them together, pinning him down." Berenice Abbot made this portrait of Levy in Paris, just after he left Harvard to sail for Europe with Marcel Duchamp. His head is shaved as an homage to his father-in-law, the Dada poet-boxer Arthur Cravan, who shaved his head every summer and as a visible sign of Levy's avant-garde aspirations.