The self-portrait is painted shortly after Kjarval completed his studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. It depicts a young man in a white shirt and light-coloured sweater with a red pattern, on an olive-green background. The sharp-featured face is sunken-cheeked and grave.
When Kjarval was studying in Copenhagen, while the World War I raged in Europe, he had the opportunity to come into contact with avant-garde artistic trends that were current in Europe during the war. It seems Kjarval was particularly interested in Futurism, Expressionism and Cubism; these three different styles would all feature prominently in his artistic career. In an interview with daily Morgunblaðið on 23 April 1922, Kjarval discusses his position on contemporary art in Denmark: “I became acquainted with artists of all sorts, good and bad; I encountered new trends, which existed outside academia. These people thought in colours and lines and tones, strong and rich depending on the character and originality of each person. The trends came out of the south and immediately became known to the public. The leaders were unafraid of criticism because they knew the ultimate judgement is the last one, and beyond human control. They worked against a backdrop of death but gazed into the light which was full of bizarre shapes and diverse colours. And they made pictures and objects that they believe belong to the future, … one of those men was I.”