This is one of two portraits in the Birmingham collection which have traditionally been described as studies of the artist Daniel Casey (active 1842-1880). Born in Bordeaux to Irish parents he specialised in historical and biblical scenes, particularly those depicting horses. Brown met Casey in 1837 when they studied under Baron Wappers at the Antwerp Academy and shared lodgings at the Hotel du Pot d'Etain. Following their studentship they both relocated to Paris where Casey remained after Brown moved to England in 1844. From 1842 until 1880 he exhibited paintings such as St Loius in the Desert at the Salon and, despite commissions from the French Government monetary success evaded him. After his first wife's death in Paris in 1846 Brown was helped by the Caseys to raise enough money to bring the body home. He pawned valuables and left art materials with the family. Two years later Brown returned to Paris to visit Daniel Casey and stayed almost three weeks with his friend. He wrote happily of the holiday in his diary recording 'Went to Paris to see my old friend Casey & buy a lay figure. Did both, enjoyed myself much, painted a portrait of Casey, worked about 7 hours at it' (Virginia Surtees, ed., 'The Diary of Ford Madox Brown,' p. 44). These studies of Casey are likely to have been made by Brown during the visit, and finished in London, for the portrait (now lost).
Mary Bennett has suggested that the two portraits of the same man in the Birmingham collection may not be of Casey and that the three-quarter head (1906P720) may be for the figure of Shakespeare in 'The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry.' Several diary entries made in May 1848 make this suggestion more plausible. On 31 May Brown records that he 'drew 4 hands from Fry the Model.' The next day he notes 'drew his head for Shakespear [sic]' and on 2 June he 'drew Fry's head for Spencer' ('The Diary of Ford Madox Brown,' p. 42). This full-face portrait does match the pose of Spencer in the oil sketch for The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry (1845-1851, oil on canvas, Ashmolean Museum). However, this idea remains speculative and as Bennett herself points out "Fairfax Murray surely saw the Casey Self Portrait in the artist's executive sale" in 1894 and as the original owner of drawings must have provided the initial identification ('Ford Madox Brown: The Unofficial Pre-Raphaelite, p. 52).