Mihály Munkácsy (1844-1900) is today regarded as one of Hungary's greatest artists. Orphaned at an early age, he was adopted by a family of intellectuals who encouraged him to pursue an artistic career. After a brief apprenticeship to a carpenter, he studied in the Academies of Vienna and Munich before deciding instead to teach himself. He took a studio in Paris and hired the young Jószef Rippl-Rónai as his assistant. At the age of 26, he won the médaille d'or at the Paris Salon with The condemned cell and was to go on to achieve international fame and recognition with a career that spanned three decades.
Painted in Paris in 1881, Christ before Pilate (fig. 1) was Munkácsy's most ambitious project to date. In 1878, the artist assured his financial security by signing a ten year contract with the dealer Charles Sedelmeyer to whom all his work during this period was consigned. Sedelmeyer exercised an enormous influence on Munkácsy's choice of subject at this time and, in fact, commissioned this painting. He also published a book in 1886 devoted to Christ before Pilate alone, comprising 70 pages of illustrations, press cuttings and reviews from throughout Europe and America in praise of this work.
Hans Temple, who studied under Munkácsy in Paris for two years and became best known for his portraits of artists of his time, depicts the great Hungarian seated at work on a version of his 1881 painting. Executed in 1887, the present work betrays the esteem in which Munkácsy held Christ before Pilate, choosing to be identified with this work in preference to all others, most notably its companion piece Christ on Calvary from 1884-5. In contrast to how Munkácsy depicted himself in a self-portrait in his studio from 1876 (fig. 2), Temple endows his subject's pose with both an air of nobility and one of formality, creating an image of one of Europe's most famous and successful artists interrupted in the process of creating one of his most acclaimed compositions. Far from the rather retiring self-presentation of Munkácsy's self-portrait, Temple's work shows an artist at the very height of his international success, and becomes the painter's homage to a revered teacher.