Nikolaus Lenau, actually Nikolaus Franz Niembsch Edler von Strehlenau, was born in 1802 near in a small community near Temesvár that now bears his name. He started publishing poems in 1827 and fell into a gloom when his mother died two years later. In 1832 he emigrated to America and lived for a while with the Harmony Society, but returned the following year. He lived partly in Stuttgart and partly in Vienna, wrote some plays and more poems, some of them inspired by his hopeless passion for Sophie von Löwenthal, the wife of a friend. in 1844 he became increasingly unstable. He died in 1850 in an asylum in Oberdöbling, a suburb of Vienna. He is considered the greatest Austrian poet of his century, and many of his poems were put into music.

The portrait was either made before 1824, when Friedrich Amerling (he was nobilitated only in 1878) went to Prague for a few years, or after 1828, when he returned to Vienna.