This exquisitely rendered portrait by Kaufmann captures the essence of a rabbi devoted to his faith. Pensive and solemn, the model, garbed in a conventional black silk caftan and Wolkenbruchspodek (fur hat) stands before an ornate Torah curtain, likely purchased by the artist during his many journeys to Eastern Europe. The subject's red beard and tooled covered prayer book blend with the golden hues of the work's background, creating a superbly harmonious composition. The frontal view, used most frequently by Kaufmann, places the observer's perspective slightly below the figure's composed gaze, thus enhancing the sitter's contemplative and dignified air.
Kaufmann, born in the trade center of the Austro Hungarian monarchy, Arad, moved to Vienna in 1875 to facilitate his artistic studies. In time, he became recognized as a portraitist and genre painter of great repute. In 1894, the artist embarked on the first of many trips to Eastern European shtetls to record their culture of traditional Jews, "where Jewish life and Jewish feelings vibrate more strongly" (G. Tobias Natter, Isidor Kaufmann, p. 27). As Richard Cohen observes, Isidor Kaufmann was "involved in uncovering the inner spirit of the Eastern European Jews on their daily life and pursuits. While evoking both intensity of feeling and devotion, Kaufmann's paintings also show a perceptive appreciation of the human side to ghetto life, portrayed with concern for detail and emotion. Kaufmann addressed themes of everyday life, redolent with compassion and devotion" (Jewish Icons, University of California Press, 1998, p. 173). (http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2008/important-judaica-n08504/lot.152.html)
beardhatjewmale portraitrabbifur hatwolkenbruchspodektorah curtainprayer bookoil on panel