Van Gogh always had great passion for depicting human figures. He wanted to make a contribution to modern art specifically with figure paintings. In June of 1888 he found this model and was very excited. He took this opportunity and painted two of the Zouave soldier. He described him to Theo as "a boy with a small face, a bull neck, and the eye of a tiger." But the model was portrayed as an older adult.
This drawing, Zouave Half Figure, is one of the most successfully drawn portraits he was ever to make. The man's head is rendered with a fine pen in a detailed, delicate manner, making an attractive contrast with the rest of the picture, which was drawn quickly using a reed pen.