We carried out an experiment of inbreeding and upward artificial selection for egg‐to‐adult viability in a recently captured population of Drosophila melanogaster, as well as computer simulations of the experimental design, in order to obtain information on the nature of genetic variation for this important fitness component. The inbreeding depression was linear with a rate of 0.70 ± 0.11% of the initial mean per 1% increase in inbreeding coefficient, and the realized heritability was 0.06 ± 0.07. We compared the empirical observations of inbreeding depression and selection response with computer simulations assuming a balance between the occurrence of partially recessive deleterious mutations and their elimination by selection. Our results suggest that a model assuming mutation‐selection balance with realistic mutational parameters can explain the genetic variation for viability in the natural population studied. Several mutational models are incompatible with some observations and can be discarded. Mutational models assuming a low rate of mutations of large average effect and highly recessive gene action, and others assuming a high rate of mutations of small average effect and close to additive gene action, are compatible with all the observations.