The Cellist is one of Bradley's early works, and like other known early paintings by this artist, this one is small in scale and depicts a full-length figure. Nothing is known about the sitter, but he seems to be a man of means as well as a musician, as suggested by the elegant setting with a stylish pianoforte and cello that are prominent in the composition. The two objects on the Sheraton-style bench--a pink cloth kerchief and a pitch pipe or resin applicator for use on the strings of a bow—also suggest that he is a practicing musician. The sheet music—a hymn published in London about 1820—is legible enough to be identified and played, showing the artist’s careful attention to detail. Bradley rendered the man’s striking features—piercing blue eyes, wavy hair, and lean face—with faithfulness and verve. Painted with crisp lines and carefully noted details, the figure seems alive as he gazes directly at us.
The figure's awkward proportions are typical of self taught painters such as we assume Bradley to be. An impossibly long right arm rests on a relatively short leg; the tiny feet, clad in black slippers, seem intended to convey the musician's refinement, as does his slender form. Bradley's unusual technique of highlighting the contours of forms to give them greater volume can be seen in the area of the sitter's right knee and arm. Typical of Bradley's portraits—and of portraiture by self-taught artists—are the limited tones—brown, white, and black—enlivened by such broad accents as the rich red curtain and green-figured carpet.