Felix Nussbaum was born in Osnabrück in 1904. He studied art in Hamburg and Berlin where he met his partner, the artist Felka Platek, in 1924. Until the rise to power of the Nazi regime, Nussbaum and Platek lead a rather bohemian existence in Berlin, Rome and Paris. Nussbaum and Platek moved to Ostand in 1935, and spent the years to come moving between various locations in Belgium and France. In 1940 when the German army entered Belgium, Nussbaum was arrested as a Hostile Alien and was interned in St. Cyprien. He managed to escape and was registered with The Jews Register in Brussels on 20 December 1940. With the assistance of friends, the couple hid in Brussels. In 1942 Platek's German citizenship was revoked. The couple was caught in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz on July 31st. (E. Berger, I. Jaehner, P. Junk, K. G. Kaster, M. Meinz, W. Zimmer, Felix Nussbaum, New York, 1994, pp. 25-28).
Inge Jaehner, in a letter relating to Selbstbildnis mit Papierhut und blauem Schal explains: 'This undated self-portrait is part of a series of self-portraits that were executed around 1936, when Felix Nussbaum, as an emigrant in Ostand, tackled the problems of his uprooting. Nussbaum's studies of his physiognomy, which are first of all graphically explored, aim not only at self-discovery. He is concerned about his own identity: he is looking for his own "mask" and aims to discover what is undisguised beyond, trying to find his true self in the deformations of his "grimaces" and searching for his veritable existence behind the poses of disguise. Nussbaum's self-depictions, drawn in charcoal around 1936, are to be understood as the analysis of his "inner reality". While he picks them up again in coloured gouaches and at the same time quotes landscape elements from earlier works, referring to the stages of his exile. Thus Nussbaum confronts his "inner reality" with the "outer" one of his situation in these self-depictions'.
'In this self-portrait, Nussbaum presents himself in front of a wall with a noticeably large street lamp on the left and a backdrop of houses on the right hand border of the image. An embracing couple is standing in front of the dark and seemingly deserted facade. The remaining touch of sky in the upper third of the picture opens up a view of a separate grey-white cloud. The mood of the cityscape in the background appears bleak and threatening through the bulky wall. The figures, which can be recognized by their costumes as the lovers of the Commedia dell'Arte, belong to the world of the theatre. The frontiers between reality and disguise appear no longer distinct'.
Nussbaum's work remains one of the most potent documentations of this dark period, the coherent body of works exists as Nussbaum managed to hide his output with friends. In his work of the 1930s and 1940s we see an artist who slowly resigns to the idea of death, his sense of doom closing in is evident. Though Nussbaum apparently considered himself as a political exile in the 1930s, in a letter to a friend dated April 1943 he referred to himself as a "homeless Jew".